Elder Care: Caregiver Overview
One of the joys in living is being independent. As fully functioning adults we are able to pay our bills, grocery shop, clean our own homes, garden at leisure and participate in activities that bring us pleasure. As we become older, we have the potential to lose the ability to care for ourselves. We might not be able to answer the phone, due to chronic rheumatoid arthritis; we might not be able to climb stairs to get to the sewing machine; cutting the lawn and landscape work might suffer due to the inability to push the lawnmower or get down on our knees. Sometimes a little help is all that is needed in order to remain living independent.
In the past, care of the elderly typically fell to the extended family. Now, with people having smaller families, older adults living longer, and families living further apart, care of the elderly is not only falling to the family (often long-distance), but also to independent caregivers, the state or charitable organizations.
Whether caring for an elderly family member or an elderly client, caregivers often have multiple challenges to overcome. As our needs, and abilities, change throughout the years there are issues that arise from time-to-time, that need to be addressed. Health issues (physical and mental), housing concerns, transportation issues, financial issues, and end of life decision making are some of these.
Good Mental and Physical Health
Good mental and physical health is something we can easily take for granted until it begins to decline. Our memory may not be as adept due to the aging process, or we may have been diagnosed with memory issues due to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or any one of a number of other diseases. Our ability to make adjustments can be exhausting, but also very empowering.
Housing may be one of the adjustments that are necessary. There are some things you can do to stay in your own home. Physical alterations, such as handles for getting in and out of the shower, non-slip flooring, or a different telephone may make it possible to stay in the home. Home health care may be another possibility for those faced with more challenges. When independent living is no longer an option for elders, there are several other housing options available. In Michigan there are adult foster care homes, assisted living homes, adult day care centers, respite care, and nursing homes well as other options. It’s extremely important to recognize that the cost of each facility is different and methods of payment vary from place to place. In order to get specific financial information, contact the admissions coordinator of the facility you are interested in.
Because our transportation system is built for the average person’s sight and abilities, as we age, transportation issues will eventually arise. It is a difficult choice – put yourself or others in jeopardy by driving unsafe or giving up the privilege of driving altogether. Although not being able to drive can’t help but impact our lives in a big way, by planning ahead, it can make the transition from driving to riding less traumatic for us and safer for those around us.
Financial well-being is an important component to be addressed when making adjustments due to age, and especially if someone has a disease that will get worse over time. You can be more prepared by becoming familiar with any insurance you have that concerns illness and long term care. Government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid also have programs that you may want to learn about ahead of time.
End of Life Decisions
End of life decisions are never easy to make. It’s a discussion that all family members should be part of. Questions regarding end of life decisions should be made before a crisis arises. Designation of a medical patient advocate and implementing Hospice Care are two important issues that should be addressed.
- Designation of a patient advocate allows the chosen individual power to make medical treatment decisions and personal care and custody decisions when the patient is unable to make their own medical treatment decisions.
- Hospice is a type of care given to someone facing the last stages of a terminal illness. To be enrolled in hospice, a physician must write an order. Hospice includes palliative care (comfort care) and can be provided in various settings. Hospitals, Hospice Home, Nursing Homes and in a Patient's Home are some of the environments that Hospice care is given.
- Palliative care is concerned with people coping with any stage of a disease; whether curable or incurable, and focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of the patient.
- Caregivers needing a break from care giving may want to learn more about respite care. This allows an older adult to be placed in a temporary facility, so that the caregiver can attend to whatever needs they may have; whether that be a much needed vacation or dealing with other issues.
There are many issues concerning aging. When we were children, we were gaining control over things. Even though things were difficult because of our physical or mental limitations, things got better. Aging is part of the process of living. We get wisdom and experience – yet are asked to give up independence. By doing research, planning ahead and making small changes, we can try and maintain an equilibrium that we need in order to thrive.
Other Areas of Concern
There are additional areas of concern. Along with the aging process comes additional challenges such as memory loss, elder abuse and hoarding.
- Memory Loss As people get older, some forgetfulness is common. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have Alzheimer’s disease. In the past, forgetfulness was called “senility.” Now that word has been replaced by the word “dementia.” Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, dementia is a symptom that can be present in many other conditions. Some thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies can cause dementia. Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases that can cause dementia by referring to the Alzheimer's Association.
- Elder abuse and neglect may consist of the following types: physical abuse, exploitation, violation of basic rights (opening mail, making phone calls), psychological abuse, self-neglect, sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment. It is important to be attentive to older adults who could be victims of abuse.
- Hoarding is a psychological disorder which causes a person to collect a large number of possessions. Hoarding is estimated to affect 1.4 million homes in the United States, and it is believed that only 10% of all the cases of hoarding gets the attention of public officials. Hoarding involves more than just hanging on to junk and can become a health hazard for the one who suffers from the disorder, as well as their families and the community.