In Celebration of Family Caregivers Month

The Complex Task of Being a Caregiver for a Family Member
by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

The month of November has many notable celebrations, including Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving Day, and it is also the month that celebrates the contributions of family caregivers across the United States. "National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM) celebrates family caregivers who are certainly the unsung heroes of our society," stated certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "November is the month to raise awareness of the issues that family caregivers face as well as to educate communities and increase support for the caregivers themselves."

Being a family caregiver usually begins as an act of love but can quickly become a roller coaster of emotions for the caregiver. They may experience feelings of loss, anger, sadness, frustration, and guilt over the emotions they are experiencing. Caregivers often feel isolated and lonely and out of touch with the other family members. Add to this, other family members who are not providing care seem to have advice on what they would do and even provide unhelpful criticism resulting in building resentments.

Attorney RJ Connelly III

"In a 2020 report published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, there are 53 million Americans providing unpaid care for relatives or friends," stated Attorney Connelly. "Almost forty-two million of those caregivers are looking after those aged fifty and over, providing, on average, nearly 24 hours a week of care for those not living with them. For those who have the recipient living in the home, those hours jump to thirty-seven hours per week."

These numbers are expected to increase dramatically. According to a report published by the Population Reference Bureau, the number of adults over the age of sixty-five will double from fifty-two million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060. "When you add these numbers to the fact that the American life expectancy is increasing, the need for caregivers will need to exponentially increase as well," said Attorney Connelly. "This phenomenon has been referred to metaphorically as the silver tsunami."

So as the "silver tsunami" arrives, so too will the age-related conditions that seniors face. They will be facing Alzheimer's and other dementias, which according to the Alzheimer's Associations numbers will see an increase of the disease from 6.2 million in 2021 to 12.7 million in 2050. Other conditions like heart disease, cancer, and Parkinson's disease will increase as well as age-related changes in functioning such as a loss of mobility, incontinence, and vision and hearing changes, will all add up to the need for family caregivers.

The Work of Caregivers

"Besides the emotional support provided by family caregivers, there is a multitude of tasks that they provide that allow their loved ones to continue to live independently in the community," stated Attorney Connelly. "These tasks include cooking, cleaning, transportation to medical appointments, shopping, managing their finances, and assistance with hygiene and toileting."

Support and education is essential

A sizable percentage of caregivers also provide nursing tasks for their loved ones as well. These tasks include giving medications, tube feeding, taking care of wounds, catheter and colostomy care, diabetic services, and monitoring vital signs. "These are complex medical tasks that require training for professionals in the field," said Attorney Connelly. "Unfortunately, in an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine, they found that only 7 percent of family caregivers ever received any formal training or education in the medical services they are providing, which adds to the stress of the situation."

"Here's the reality, getting old and needing assistance is not a matter of 'if' but a matter of 'when' we will need assistance, and how we will get that help," said Attorney Connelly. "It is estimated that a senior who turns 65 today has a 70 percent chance of requiring long-term care in their remaining years. The options are limited and expensive, they can move into an assisted living community or a nursing home, so most choose to remain home and turn to their loved ones for help."

In many cases, loved ones have little choice when it comes to the cost of long-term care. "In a recent cost of care survey done by Genworth, the average cost of an assisted living facility is $4,300 a month and a semi-private room in a nursing home is $7,756 a month," said Attorney Connelly. "But even if you have a home worth a million dollars and you sell it and use the funds to pay for nursing care, that money will be gone in less than a decade. So, the burdens placed upon family caregivers are immense."

Looking at the Issues

Let's look at some of the issues facing home care providers. "We discussed the tasks that caretakers provide, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg," stated Attorney Connelly. "There are many problems for caregivers but also some solutions. The list is lengthy but let's take a look at some major ones."

Physical Stress

Extreme stress can manifest in physical issues too. Stress increases pain levels which can create crippling anxiety and exacerbate existing conditions. Before it gets to this point, a family meeting should be held, and plans made for ways to provide help for the caregiver. Taking a break and going to the gym, regular walks, or even getting a massage can help. Listening to your body is important.

Caretaking also means taking care of you

Emotional Stress

We suggest a meeting with family members and planning ways to get you a break. This sounds great but as with all things in life, the phrase "the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry" applies here. As horrific as this may sound, some family members may not have your best interests at heart. Why? Because taking on an additional role for them may not be in their plans. So, it's best to take your family's temperature and feel out who may be the one you can approach. If you do become emotionally overwhelmed, there are some anti-anxiety techniques you can use in the home like breathing exercises. Ideally, getting out of the environment and going to a gym for a yoga class or meditation would be great, but that's not always an option.

Coping with Personal Relationship Issues

This is a big one. Taking care of a loved one also takes you away from other relationships like spouses, children, and friends. Spending quality time with others in your life becomes increasingly difficult either from the time needed with the person being taken care of or you are tired. What's important here is being open and honest with others in your life and communicating with them as to what is happening goes a long way in helping them understand what you are experiencing and helps to keep you from feeling guilty. But, with that said, it is important to schedule time for yourself and with your friends. Taking care of you doesn't mean you are less caring about your loved one, consider it needed maintenance to keep you operating at peak performance.

The Need for Privacy

As a care provider, it's important to have proximity to the person you're taking care of, and depending on the type of illness, you may be providing care around the clock. Many caregivers find the lack of privacy one of the most troubling aspects of providing care. They often describe feeling depressed and lonely due to the momentous tasks they face daily. The good news is that there are support groups for Caregivers that can be contacted.

Conflicts with Family

You step forward to be the caregiver when no one else can or wants to. Suddenly, you begin hearing that those who did not want to help are beginning to second-guess your decisions. Or you are splitting responsibilities with another family member and conflicts arise over how you are providing medication, feeding schedules, etc. This can lead to arguments and resentments, further increasing the stress levels on you and all concerned. The answer is to run it like a business, produce a regular schedule for feeding, medication, and hygiene care to follow and develop a set of policies so everyone is on the same page. This may sound robotic but having such a document in place keeps everyone structured and aware of their expectations.

Disagreements are a part of caregiving

Conflicts with your Loved One

No matter how much you love and care for someone, we are still individuals with personal likes and dislikes, emotional needs, and the ways we do things. When you are spending so much time together, head-butting is bound to occur. But sometimes it goes a bit further than this and turns into a toxic relationship, especially when your loved one begins to take you for granted, ignoring your own personal needs, and taking advantage of your kindness. If this happens, a simple yet direct conversation needs to occur and quickly. Let your loved one know that you need to have time to unwin