Part 3A: Can I Stay At Home?
Stay at Home With Family Help
As a senior begins to exhibit more and more signs that they can no longer safely and/or properly care for themselves, there are a number of options for getting them the help that they need. It should be noted that there are benefits available to help qualified seniors pay for that care. Veteran's Aid & Attendance and Medicaid are programs that may be able to help you pay for in-home care. Each has income and asset limitations and Medicaid rules vary by state so consulting an expert who can assist and guide your application can be very helpful. More on these programs can be found in the final article in our series.
While the first line of defense for the senior is the care and love of family and friends, the potential physical, mental and emotional consequences of being a caregiver should not be underestimated.
You may already be accompanying a loved one to the occasional doctor's appointment or preparing a meal for them now and again. Maybe you’re doing more. Maybe a LOT more. While being a caregiver is a noble role, studies show that as care needs grow, the consequences for the caregiver become more severe, especially when there is one primary caregiver. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (Caregiver.org):
- 1 in 6 caregivers believe their own physical health has declined, a number that grows with time.
- Providing care for over a year, being older, shouldering a larger care burden, dealing with dementia issues and living with the care receiver all worsen the situation.
- Performing more ADLs and dealing with dementia issues greatly exacerbate caregiver health issues.
Sadly, as concerning as the physical health issues are, the emotional and mental effects are even worse:
- A staggering 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression.
- 25-50% of those people meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.
- Familiarity breeds . . . stress? 45% of those caring for a spouse or parent reported stress compared with 35% for other relatives and 18% for a non-relative.
So not only does the senior become increasingly isolated but the caregiver's own health suffers as stress levels skyrocket. Compounding that, guilt may creep in when the caregiver is unable to meet all needs or, even worse, an accident happens. As you might suspect, caregivers are often thrust into the role without the necessary services and supports in place.
Caregiver burnout is also a real thing and needs to be monitored. Feelings of inadequacy, fatigue, hopelessness and, ultimately, depression can have devastating consequences. Caregivers often have to provide some level of care to multiple people. A mom caring for her children, her spouse and her parents are one example. It can be a crushing burden. Sadly, all too often the caregiver does not recognize or even know the signs of burnout, which include:
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, possibly due to exhaustion or guilt
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Social withdrawal
- Exhaustion: physical, emotional and spiritual
- Thoughts of hurting self or the person being cared for
- More frequent bouts of sickness
There are ways to manage the stress that involve accessing resources such as support groups, respite stays and more but many caregivers are not even aware those resources exist.
These sobering statistics are not meant to stop you but rather to allow you to accept the caregiver role with eyes wide open, as fully prepared as possible. It is difficult, especially over an extended period, and can cause serious mental health issues like depression. Your awareness of these potential issues can help you recognize them. Find out what resources are available, both on-line and locally. Caregiver.org is a great place to start.
Next: Can I stay at home with outside caregivers brought in?