Becoming a Caregiver in the Blink of an Eye

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By Marilyn Walsh, Baptist Homes Society, Public Relations Director

“Mom had been healthy her whole life.  Then, in the blink of an eye, at the age of 80, she had a stroke.  She needed rehabilitation, assistance with tasks of daily living, and was experiencing dementia-related issues. My sister and I were woefully unprepared to deal with any of it, said Jane Tremont at a recent “Caring for Aging Parents” seminar at Providence Point in Scott Township.  Jane, like more than one million other Pennsylvania residents, had suddenly been thrown into the role of informal caregiver.

“We knew nothing about her insurance, her power of attorney, the services available, and the high costs of care,” Jane Tremont added.

After listening to speakers and talking with counselors at the Caring for Aging Parents seminar, she stated, “I never knew about these resources;

I never even thought to look. Mom was healthy and I didn’t want to think about some terrible thing like a stroke or heart attack happening.”

When a parent or other family member that you love is sick, or hurt, or unable to care for themselves, it is natural to want to be there with them—to comfort, to help, and to protect them.  Sometimes, the responsibilities begin gradually; at other times people may find themselves suddenly thrown into the role of caregiver.

Yet, many of them, like Jane, are caught off-guard.

Nothing can prepare you for everything that might happen if your aging parent or other loved one suddenly becomes ill.  The situation for each person is as different as their personalities, their healthcare needs, and their environment.  However, taking the time to learn and plan ahead can save you from a very stressful situation that can last weeks, months or even years.

No matter your situation, if you have an aging parent or a loved one in failing health, if you currently take care of an aging parent, ill spouse, or other loved one, here are five basic things to remember.

Preparations now can save you from problems later. Talk with your aging parent about the plans they may already have in place for insurance, healthcare, estate, etc.  Seek the advice of an elder law attorney or other senior advocacy professional. Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Aging website. Check out services like home care, and facilities that provide nursing, personal care and respite care options.  If you haven’t visited an elder care facility in a while, you may be surprised at the options and living arrangements available for care.

You are not alone. Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for care of the population age 65 and older. It is estimated that 83 percent of adults will become a caregiver for a loved one during their lifetime and 37 percent may become the sole caregiver. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging estimates there are 1.2 to 1.4 million informal caregivers providing 1.3 billion hours of care in Pennsylvania each year.

Seek help. Caring for a loved one can be overwhelming. A recent study showed that about 39 percent of family caregivers showed signs of caregiver fatigue—a common problem when the caregiver becomes increasingly focused on the care and safety of the person in their care and less focused on their own needs. The caregiver becomes isolated and depressed, and may even suffer physical injury in their efforts to provide services for their loved one. If you find yourself in an increasing role as caregiver, vow to take good care of yourself as well as your loved one. Find the support you need to take time for rest, recuperation, and other activities and responsibilities.

Find the support you need. No one can be on the job 24-hours-a-day, seven-days- a-week and do a good job. Call on friends and family.  Seek professional help.  Things like short-term respite care by a residential care facility, allow the informal caregiver time to rest, address their own healthcare needs, and maintain healthy relationships with the other people in their life. And, if you are not currently a caregiver but know someone who is, offer your support or comfort to them.  You will also benefit from the companionship and knowledge you’ll gain about the caregiving journey.

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