Written by James Fleming
Many seniors who invest time in planning and saving for retirement often think about their own longevity and incorporating money into the mix for long-term care they might need down the line. Instead of requiring your own care, however, have you thought about what you would do if you became a caregiver in retirement?
How Many Seniors are Caregivers?
For many seniors in their “golden years”, caring for a family member like a spouse or parent, is a very real and prevalent situation. In fact, the latest report from the National Caregiving Alliance and AARP shares that 34 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are 65 years of age or older. Older caregivers often devote more hours of care to their loved one than the average caregiver, often because it is a parent or spouse with whom they live.
Caregiving duties can range from managing prescription refills and providing transportation to appointments, to more skilled nursing care like administering medicine, changing dressings, and assisting with ADLs. Activities of daily living (or ADLs) include personal tasks like bathing, getting dressed, using the toilet, eating, and transferring out of bed or into a chair.
Over one-third of caregivers in the U.S. specifically provide care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. For senior caregivers, this ratio is even higher as older adults (like spouses and parents) are much more likely to develop dementia as they age.
In addition to performing typical caregiving duties, caregivers of an older adult with Alzheimer’s also manage a unique emotional toll that comes with watching a loved one lose their basic faculties, memory, and so forth. A large percentage of seniors with Alzheimer’s experience “sundowning” where they exhibit signs at the end of the day including irritability, confusion, and aggression. This can be exceptionally challenging for caregivers.
Tips for Retired Caregivers
While caregiving does provide fulfillment and a sense of purpose to people who have the means and capabilities of being able to provide care for a loved one, it can also be a physical, emotional, and financial burden which sidelines your retirement dreams. If you have taken on the role as caregiver in retirement, keep these tips in mind:
Ask for Help
Are you worried about being a burden on your own friends, kids, or siblings? If you are caring for a spouse or parent and experiencing age-related health issues yourself, the caregiving role can seem even more daunting. Asking for help is tough, however, it is necessary. Instead of hiding the extent of your loved one’s condition, be willing to share it and ask for help.
It can be hard for people outside of the caregiving bubble to understand how they might assist you so request help with specific tasks, i.e. “Can you bring dinner over on Wednesday?” or “Can you stop by the pharmacy and pick up your Mom’s medicine this afternoon?”.
Listen and Learn
Caregiving is as much about getting educated as it is about physical tasks. Learning about your loved one’s condition and training with nurses at the doctor’s office or via home health will go a long way in equipping you with the knowledge and skills to make caregiving easier (and boost your loved one’s quality of life). Not sure where to start? Try:
- Looking online at high-quality medical information and caregiving sites like MayoClinic.org, Health.Harvard.edu, and DailyCaring.com
- Writing a list of questions and concerns before each doctor’s appointment that you can take with you and add notes
- Searching for caregiving classes at your local hospital, Council on Aging, or senior assistance organization.
Easier said than done, sure, but self-care is a must as a caregiver. Caregiving is often linked to chronic stress which can manifest itself in a multitude of physical and mental symptoms including headaches, back pain, digestion issues, and depression. Self-care can range from activities like taking a daily walk for exercise to getting a massage, practicing yoga, having friends over for dinner, or taking a relaxing bath before bed.
Local respite services may offer some relief as well, allowing you to take a break from caregiving temporarily to relax and reset. See if there are adult daycare programs available near you or if local resources offer longer-stay respite services (i.e. for a whole week).
The financial burden associated with caregiving can seriously impact retirement savings as well especially if you develop health issues yourself as a result of caregiving. Look into long-term care insurance, set aside enough money to hit prescription plan deductibles each year, update life insurance policies, and make sure you have all your legal documents in place including financial and healthcare powers of attorney. A little forethought goes a long way!