You had your retirement all planned out: Working in your garden, visiting grandchildren, and plenty of travel. Not on your agenda? Caring for your elderly parents during your own golden years.
But many retirees are doing just that.
Longer life spans mean that many people are living well into their 80s and beyond – and their aging children are often their primary caregivers.
If you’re in your 60s or 70s and spending your days giving baths, making meals, and scheduling home aides for an aging loved one, you’re not alone.
In honor of Family Caregivers Month, we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of taking on this monumental task – and teach you how to take care of your own health at the same time.
Longer life spans mean many retirees are still caring for their parents
Older adults are now living much longer than generations in the past – and many adult children and their parents are now aging together. For some, this is both a blessing and a curse.
Longer life spans mean that children in their 60s and 70s are now caring for parents in their 90s and beyond. And while it can be a true gift to still have that relationship in your older years, it can also create unforeseen hardship.
Why? Because many adults assume that their late 60s and beyond will be a time of life when they can finally give up some responsibilities and relax. But the work that goes into caring for an aging loved one can make that nearly impossible.
Family caregiving can take a financial toll
One of the most difficult parts of caring for an aging loved one can be the financial responsibilities. Besides forcing many to abandon their retirement dreams, family caregiving can also quickly deplete saving and other financial resources. In fact, more than a third of caregivers say they began saving less after taking on the role.
Even though money from Social Security and state programs can help pay for expenses, the funds are often not enough.
For many retirees, covering the remainder can mean dipping into a nest egg or even selling their own home. Once the money is gone, they may have to cut back on home aides or skimp on other necessities, furthering their own stress.
Even for those who still work a “regular” job, financial hardships can hit in other ways. Many (especially women) are forced to cut back on hours or completely give up their career. Others miss out on promotions or face constant reprimands due to missed time at work or excessively arriving late and leaving early.
Given the choice, however, of giving up their own retirement or putting their parents in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid, many older adults will choose the former. Difficult as it can be, most feel incredibly fortunate to still have their parents by their sides.
Older caregivers often suffer from health problems of their own
Money problems aren’t the only hardships that come with caring for an older parent: Many retirees in a caregiving role report significant amounts of stress and anxiety, in addition to more serious health problems.
Studies show that boomer women have it the worst. When surveyed, women in a caregiving role report that they are 78% more stressed than before (compared to 66% of men). Half of them also say they sleep worse, 43% have gained weight, and 42% have stopped exercising.
In addition, many late-in-life caregivers are also suffering from their own health problems, unrelated to the role. These issues (ranging from Type 2 Diabetes to Congestive Heart Failure and more) can worsen due to the stress, physical demands, and social isolation that often accompany caregiving – and research indicates that these harmful effects can last long after a parent’s death.
Taking care of yourself
The act of caregiving can be draining both emotionally and physically, and it often feels like a thankless task. Unfortunately, when you’re stressed and frustrated, it’s not just your own wellbeing that suffers – the quality of your care is also likely to diminish.
To alleviate overwhelm and keep yourself healthy, experts recommend taking regular breaks, getting routine physicals, maintaining social connections, and keeping up with exercise.
Many caregivers find self-care impossible due to the demands of their role, but there are ways to make it work. Depending on family members willingness and ability to help, others may be able to offer respite for a few hours. Other options include home aides and adult daycare programs (Medicaid often picks up some costs for those with limited resources).
To find out what’s financially doable, it may make sense to seek professional advice. An accountant, for example, can help find tax breaks for home care and other services.
Caregiving is an act of love and sacrifice, and a very generous thing to do. Despite the hardships, many people consider it an honor to be able to care for those that cared for them.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and look at the big picture: Your time, attention, and effort are proving comfort to a loved one during their final years. It is a truly priceless gift.