There’s an epidemic sweeping across the country—families and older adults are taking care of their aging loved ones and facing the stress that comes with spreading themselves too thin. Although caring for aging loved ones is nothing new, we’re only starting to understand the difficult challenges of being a caregiver. One study by University of Pittsburgh researchers found that elderly caregivers are at a 63% higher risk of mortality than non-caregivers in the same age group. Further, in a 2003 Ohio State study on caregivers who supported a spouse with Alzhiemer’s disease, 70% of caregivers passed away before their spouse.
Stress, anxiety and depression are common symptoms of caregiving. And with one in four families supporting an aging loved one, it’s an epidemic we simply can’t ignore. Caregivers come from all walks of life, all backgrounds. They’re our neighbors, our coworkers, even our own family members.
Carla’s a busy professional with an even busier schedule. Her days are filled with meetings but her afternoons and weekends are spent attending her daughter’s dance performances or cheering on her son’s baseball games. Life is busy, but structured, doable. That is, until she gets a call from her mother’s doctor – Mom has fallen and needs hip surgery. After rehab, it becomes clear that Mom won’t be able to live alone any longer. They make up the spare room for her, but Carla wonders how she’ll manage it all.
At 75, she’s just as active as she was at 60. But instead of her morning walking group or book club, she spends her time caring for George, her husband, in stage 5 of Alzheimer’s disease. She wants to keep him at home, but she doesn’t know how much longer she can support him. George is starting to wander and beyond the physical demands of day-to-day support, she’s scared and worried she’ll miss something big.
There are millions like Carla and Charlene – millions caring for their aging loved ones yet facing the physical and mental challenges that come with the job. Caring for those who care isn’t easy. Solving the caregiver stress epidemic is no easier, but support is key.
A mind-body-spirit approach to health for both caregiver and their aging loved one is the forward path that can ease this epidemic, addressing both the physical and emotional side-effects of caregiving. Outside support is key – whether it’s extra help around the home or support through a senior living community.
Supportive senior services have come a long way in recent decades. Unlike the nursing homes of our grandparents, many senior living and retirement communities are adding homey amenities, restaurant-inspired dining options, spiritual and wellness support and innovative solutions for families.
At Christian Horizons, we pair whole-person individualized care with a strong family connection component, especially for memory support residents. Caregivers continue to play an essential role in their loved one’s care, but without the stress.
For Carla, exploring assisted living was a game-changer. With a supportive environment assisting her mom with daily activities, Carla can finally be a daughter again. Connection was a surprising benefit neither of them saw. Carla’s mom has made friends with residents and is more engaged than ever.
For Charlene, she found a supportive senior living life plan community. With independent living apartments on the same campus as memory support apartments – she could continue spending time with George with professional caregivers walking alongside her every step of the way. And the life plan community’s enrichment opportunities meant she could once again join a book club and make new friends with her neighbors who knew exactly what it was like to be a caregiver.
Supporting our loved ones as they age isn’t easy, from the physical effects to the emotional. But a whole person approach that supports both older adults and their caregivers is central to easing the stress of caregiving.