Who cares for mom and dad?

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As young children, we believe our parents are superheroes who will live forever.  As we grow and generations shift, we appreciate the humanity of our parents as they age.  The baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 – 1964) make up over 20% of the nation’s population and as a result, their children, mostly of Gen X and Gen Y generations (those born between 1965 and 1996) are now serving as caregivers for their parents. The transition to caring for our aging parents, both planned and unplanned, can be impactful to all parties involved and comes with challenges. On this Dana Being Dana, host Dana Michelle relates to her guests as they discuss the topic of elder care and the important question: “Who cares for mom and dad?”

How does caregiving for a parent change family dynamics?

Joining Dana on her first segment are guests Karyn Charvat, Executive Director at PowerForward DuPage, and Kenya Jones, Attorney and Principal at The Jones Law Group, LLC.  The three all took on the role of caregiver for their aging mothers despite their busy schedules and discussed how the shift from daughter to caregiver comes with certain struggles.

Kenya spoke to this point saying, “It’s a big change, and trying to make sure that she’s doing the things that she’s supposed to do while I’m away, you know, at work. And there are times that, you know, she was trying to mother me and I’m in my late forties at this point (…) So we had to sit down, we had to talk. And now she really does not fight me on a lot of things now because she’s recognizing that she needs help and she can’t do it by herself.”

Karyn added, “It’s just a challenging dynamic when you know that they need to be doing X and they want to do Y and they’re used to being able to do Y whenever they like (…) you’re adjusting to the disease as well, which took me honestly years of, you know, learning how to step back and no longer argue or push or challenge and just get into the same headspace. And again, all the blogs and all the resources will tell you that with Alzheimer’s, just meet them where they are”.

The three agreed on the importance of taking care of the caretaker. For Karyn, it was leaning on her sister, “She has three children and her own job. So day to day I was the person, but day to day she was there for me. So I had just a tremendous supportive outlet when I was, you know, just going through these just unbelievable, challenging days. And I think that’s so important.”

Being in the role of caregiver can often place an individual in a state of “fight or flight”, dropping everything on a moment’s notice to be with their parent. This constant worry can oftentimes lead to immense anxiety, so it is important to lean on those around you and take care of your mental and physical health.

When is it time to seek help? What options are out there for elder care?

Joining Dana on the second half of the show are experts in the elder care space; Dennise Vaughn, Administrator at Homewatch Caregivers Home Care, Alan Hoffman, Owner of Oasis Senior Advisors of Naperville, and Nathan Lara, Director of Marketing at Independence Village of Naperville.

Most individuals can recognize that their aging parents need extra help, but how often does one catastrophic event lead to rushed decision-making regarding mom and dad’s care? Dennise mentioned a popular saying in the elder care community: “One fall does it all.” Having a plan in place is absolutely crucial to give aging seniors autonomy in their care plan before snap decisions must be made on their behalf. On this topic, Nathan said, “I think when you are navigating that space from a place of panic, you’re not making the most clear and concise decisions. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan in place. It doesn’t mean you’re giving up hope. It’s meaning that you have a stepping stone for what’s coming around the corner.”

One of the difficult aspects of senior care is simply knowing what options are out there, and planning ahead accordingly. Dennise spoke to this challenge stating, “We do want to have a plan for our family and look for other resources too that are not just where you’re going to live. It may be that your parents now don’t have a lot of income, but they might qualify for low-price internet, or they might qualify for Meals on Wheels. And the reason you want to have some of those things in place is because then it does help their finances last a little longer so that they can live where they want. And so, I think the planning does have to start early.”

Alan added that his role at Oasis Senior Advisors of Naperville is to be that resource to families, pairing them with experts that he knows and trusts to provide the best care in any given situation, “often when people call me, the first thing they say is Alan, we don’t know where to get started”.

Caring for aging parents can be a large task to take on, but there are endless resources in our community to help alleviate the caregiver’s stress and provide excellent services to the elderly community.  It is important to keep the aging individual in the conversation surrounding their care, meeting them where they are at, and setting up a plan. Becoming a caregiver comes with stress and anxiety, but you are not alone.