You want to help your parents age in place. They have health issues, but so far they’re coping.
It may well be that one of the things that’s allowing them to cope is the support they’re receiving from family. That support might be coming from you. Or it might be coming from another relative. Or it might be that one of your parents – the healthier one – is supporting the other.
The overlooked role of family caregivers
It’s easy to overlook how critical this type of support is to the independence of seniors. In fact, it’s often taken for granted.
In 2009, University of Victoria researchers estimated that Canadian family caregivers contribute $24 billion in unpaid labour towards in-home care and support. Given the aging of the population that’s happened over the last decade, that’s likely now an underestimate.
According to the Health Council of Canada, 70-80% of community care for older adults is provided by family members.
Many say that without the critical support family caregivers provide, the Canadian health care system would collapse.
It’s not just the health care system that overlooks the contributions of family caregivers. Families often do it themselves.
That’s what you do for someone you love
If your aging parent or spouse is struggling, you may step in to help without thinking much of it. That’s what you do for someone you love.
And because it’s something you do without any fanfare, other members of your family may not recognize all the work that’s involved. You may even downplay it yourself.
Caring for a family member through a brief illness is one thing. But when the person you’re supporting has multiple health conditions and their need for support is increasing over time, you’re in it for the long haul. That kind of prolonged responsibility – on top of the other responsibilities in your life – can quietly take a toll on your own health.
Reaching a breaking point
A family caregiver may soldier on for a long time until one day they hit a wall. All the stress that’s been building inside them finally reaches a tipping point. They may have an emotional breakdown. Or they may have a serious health episode. It can happen without warning.
When it happens, families are plunged into a crisis. Suddenly, the parent who was coping isn’t anymore because the person who was supporting them can’t continue to play that role. Now your family has two people to worry about and one fewer deckhand to keep the ship from sinking.
At that point, aging in place may no longer be an option for your parent. You have to scramble to find a retirement home with assisted care – or even a long-term care home. The trouble is that things can’t move as fast as you need them to.
Don’t take caregivers in your family for granted
So, how do you avoid something like this happening?
Identify who in your family is providing support to your parent. It may be a variety of people, but often there will be one person providing the bulk of the support – the primary caregiver.
Itemize all the support they’re providing. It may be practical support or emotional support or financial support. Remember, if something were to happen to the primary caregiver, it’s important to know what gaps will need to be filled.
Support them. Acknowledge the importance of what they do and the toll it’s taking on them. Help them find community services that will ease their burden. Figure out ways to help them take a break. Don’t say “let me know if you need any help.” Chances are they won’t think you really mean it. Instead, offer something concrete like “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I get for you?” If you’re the primary caregiver, acknowledge the toll it’s taking on you and reach out for help.
Discuss what happens in the event the primary caregiver can’t continue in their role. What community supports could be called in? Would a move be necessary? If so, where to? Start investigating these options now.
Don’t wait for the primary caregiver to burn out. Getting additional support now or making a move before a crisis occurs will be better for everyone.
Having these sorts of discussions with your family can be tricky. You may find it helpful to involve a third party to help you not only navigate available options but the emotions you may be going through as well.
That’s where we come in. If you’re looking for retirement home or long-term care home options in the Ottawa area, one of our consultants can meet with you and your family. Just send us an email or give us a call.