Families On the Brink: Dealing with Our Elderly Parents

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With upwards of 75 million adult children caring for their elderly parents, the primary question facing society is how we take care of our aging relatives in a way that honors them, without crushing the caregivers under the weight of responsibility? ABC News recently created a series entitled, “ElderCare: Families on the Brink”, where Diane Sawyer reports on questions like car keys to funeral homes, what to do with Mom and Dad.

“It isn’t going to happen to me! Caregiving is an unscheduled event you are never fully prepared to do when the call comes,” says elder care expert, national speaker, and author, Barbara McVicker. She understands firsthand the rewarding but heavy burden caregiving can undertake. It is definitely one of the hardest and most mentally and physically challenging jobs of a lifetime.

When Mom and Dad ask you for a little errand, you might not realize how life can transition itself into a caregiving role. This act can lead into a never-ending stream of requests, and finally, you realize how dependent they have become on you. We all love our parents and want to do everything we can for them, but when we have our own family obligations and children, it becomes a “sandwich generation” problem, and you are “stuck in the middle”.

As depicted in this news series, family dynamics also become the center of focus and concern when care giving to the elderly relatives. Unfortunately, elderly caregiving isn’t like babies, no one comes down the street and coos at your parents or pats you on the back. It’s a personal drama that society is hesitant to acknowledge yet. But there’s hope, with reading and understanding these top key points. It might just leave you one step closer to not feeling alone.

Ask For Help: This is a family crisis. Although approximately 60 percent of caregivers are women, both male and female children make sacrifices for the responsibility of Mom and Dad’s care. Whether it’s at home or work, there are a lot of accommodations that need to be made to help with the burden.

Support for Primary Caregiver: Whichever adult child takes on the primary role of caregiving, support needs to be extended by the entire family. Experts will contend it’s a good idea to call a “family meeting” to discuss how the responsibilities can be shared. This can be done in person or over the phone. Words of appreciation go a long way that often give what’s needed, strength.

Everyone Reacts Differently: Caregiving affects the whole family, not just the primary caregiver. We all come at things from different angles. Nothing is more important than to have a strong supportive family. Don’t let the issues of the world tear a family apart during this already stressful time.

Financial Support: Having a valued financial planner can serve as the bridge between the generations. He can also address the “elephant in the room”-how much money does mom and dad have? A good action plan will save a lot of anxiety in the long run. Families often deteriorate during this role reversal. Legacy and money matters disrupt family dynamics. Fifty-five percent of the population has no written wills.

Whether I am presenting teleseminars through large corporations, or giving a keynote speech after dinner, I end with a challenge to all caregivers. The flight attendant stands at the front of the crowded airplane and addresses everyone. “Remember to put on your oxygen mask before helping those people around you.” This totally makes sense. Care for yourself so you can care for others. If you are not breathing, how can you possibly help others?

I also add, “Buckle up. You are in for a very bumpy ride!”

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