The Caregiver’s Role and Aging

The role of the middle-aged offspring in caring for the elderly parent has been often described in social science research and popular magazines. Even as elders are being cared for, they are a source of support – emotionally, socially and financially – by providing living arrangements for the adult child who may be the caregiver.

The caregiver in an elderly couple is most frequently the wife, as women live longer than men and are usually younger than their spouses. If the woman is impaired, the husband will often become caregiver.

The spouse is the primary source of help for the married elderly with impaired capacity and adult daughters are the major helpers when a spouse is not present or not able to sufficiently help.

The probability of relying on friends is highest among impaired elderly who are unmarried and have few family members within an hour’s travel. The more frail the person, the more likely a family member will be the primary caregiver rather than any formal systems or non-related people.

When the spouse cannot manage care for the elderly parent, children try to assist. Sons tend to become caregivers only in the absence of an available female sibling, and are more likely to rely on their own spouses for support and help. Sons tend to provide less direct care assistance and are less involved. Hence they do not feel as stressed by the caregiving experience.

The elderly person who cares for a disabled or ill spouse is a hidden victim, at risk for physical and emotional stresses of caregiving superimposed on stresses of the aging process. He or she is likely to experience a barrage of feelings and “role overload,” including being head of the household.

Thus, the family caregiver for the non-institutionalized elder is in need of help from support services. These services for the spouse could include a wives support group sponsored by a senior center, home health care, adult day care, foster home placement, extended respite care, a homemaker, and visitor or relief services.

The following are various programs that can be effective for reducing stress for caregivers of elderly family members who are emotionally or physically disabled:

  • Support groups, especially for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, which offer practical solutions to problems as well as emotional support;
  • Respite care programs based at the person’s home or in agencies, to care for the ill person when the caregiver needs time off;
  • Education about stress management techniques that enhance abilities to care for the self as well as the family member;
  • Telephone crisis counseling to elders and their caregivers and use of telecommunication services may be increasingly available and paid or provided for by insurance companies and Medicare.

Finally, to the caregiver, whether spouse, daughter or son, you will have an important role in implementing a few or all of these interventions. Don’t be reluctant to test out their availability and their value to you as the giver of care and the individual who requires it.

The author Anaïs Nin said it best with the following quote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

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