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Being there for your parents: A caregiver's story

Recently, Donna, a customer service representative at an insurance company in Lincoln, shared some personal experiences as a caregiver for her parents. Donna expresses some of the challenges, as well as the most useful sources of support, she has encountered since her mother’s heart attack nine years ago. Donna also gives advice for others who may find themselves as a caregiver to an elderly family member. Caregiver support, services, and providers mentioned in this article, as well as many others, can be found in the Answers4Families Eldercare section .

How long have you been a caregiver for your parents?

I have been involved in my parents’ care for about nine years, ever since my mom had a heart attack. Because of her living situation and her health, it has been necessary to engage at different times in direct caregiving, as well as securing outside assistance for the household.

 

What are the biggest challenges for you as a caregiver?

There are two primary concerns for me as a caregiver: time and money. Those are probably pretty obvious and are also probably the most common. Because I work a full-time job, I am not always able to spend the time with my parents as I would like. I have to use vacation time to be away from my job in the instances when I need to help them. There is no such thing as caregiver leave! I know that my mom feels guilty when I take vacation time to help them out, but it is just something that I do -- I don’t question it, nor do I resent it. It’s just a fact of life, like taking off from work when your children are sick.

The other concern is money. I am obviously not an independently wealthy person, and the income from my job has to go to support my immediate family. There isn’t much, if anything, left over to assist my parents. My mom has very high medical bills, including prescription medications that their insurance does not fully cover. They are on a fixed income as they are retired, so it would be nice to be able to help them financially. Also, as they live out of town, it costs more and more in gas to drive to their home anytime I go to help them.

 

What do you use for sources of support?

For outside support, I have contacted the Office of Aging Services, as well as my parents’ local senior center (I arranged Meals on Wheels through the senior center and housekeeping services through the aging services office).

I also depend on my husband for help-- he has also helped get my parents to appointments as well as allowing me the time to do things for them.

 

Is there a type of support you wish you had more of?

Probably the only place where I would need more support is with my employer. I don’t feel employers have caught up with the need for people to be caregivers. They are doing better with parents of small children, but when it’s an employee’s parents who need help, it is another story. In that regard, I don’t feel my employer is by any means further behind than any other employer. Elder caregiving is going to be more and more prominent as our society ages since we have such a huge segment of our population--the baby boomers--heading toward retirement age. I think the employers will have to recognize the need their employees have to take time off for elder caregiving.

Otherwise, I feel that the aging services support has been sufficient. A large part of support is just in knowing what is available, and the LIFE office has done a remarkable job in getting the word out about their services. I know that I can call with an issue and be directed somewhere for assistance. It is a huge relief to know that I don’t have to sort through the maze of agencies by myself!

 

Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to other caregivers?

My advice to other caregivers is first and foremost to learn about the help that is out there for you to take advantage of. The LIFE office is there to help caregivers, and they know the “ins and outs” of caregiving, so give them a call.

I would also advise other caregivers to make sure they have durable power of attorney for anyone they are caring for (not just a medical power of attorney). With the HIPAA privacy law, a caregiver will not be able to get the information they need if they don’t have a power of attorney. My parents finally--after years of us kids “gently” reminding them they needed to -- had their wills drawn up as well as powers of attorney for myself and another sibling of mine. I have used this several times already and even carry a copy of it in my tote bag whenever we have to deal with their medical or business issues. (I also have my parents’ social security numbers and dates of birth for reference.) It is also handy to have a list of all medications, and dosages, for anyone you provide care for as well as a contact list of their doctors or other healthcare providers. In a medical emergency, it is important to have this information. This information can all be tucked into a file folder in a tote bag so that it is always handy when you need it.

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