By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Many in their 60s and 70s have to deal with their own health issues and also have to provide care for their parents
More than 70 million baby boomers are caring for their parents or grandparents. While the youngest in that cohort may still have older teen and young adult children at home as the “sandwich generation,” the retirement-age boomers can’t take it easy.
They’re taking care of their 80- and 90-year-old parents — and doing so while struggling with their own health issues.
Although those in healthy relationships likely enjoy the extra time with their parents, their caregiving role may affect their ability to engage in the leisure activities they had anticipated for their retirement.
“People are living longer with chronic illnesses,” said Mary Rose McBride, a spokesperson for Lifespan in Rochester. “Situations like these aren’t just a blip. They are here to stay. We interact with 60-, 65- and even 70-year-olds caring for parents in their late 80s and 90s.”
Working with an agency such as Lifespan can help retiree caregivers manage the stressors of helping their elderly parents. Lifespan offers resources such as information workshops including “Powerful Tools for Caregivers.”
“It helps people learn how to care for themselves while caring for others,” McBride said. “The issues we see most often are confusion during a transition of care — hospital to rehab, rehab to home, how to pay for care and what each level of care provides.”
The organization also provides case management services, information and guidance through geriatric assessment, home visits and caregiver consultations.
One of its care management units specializes in dementia and another handles referrals directly from physician practices. Lifespan can also aid elders with bill paying and financial management by becoming their directed power of attorney in financial issues.
Outside help can make caregiving for senior parents a little easier.
“It’s hard for people who have health issues and are trying to help their parents,” said Debra Kostiw, nationally certified dementia practitioner who operates No Place Like Home Senior Care in Henrietta and authored “Forget Me Not,” a book about caregiver strategies. “It’s important to reach out to other resources. It can be a struggle to figure out where to go.”
She encourages caregivers to ask everyone they can about the resources they need, from the checker at the grocery store to their librarian to their county’s department of aging. Oftentimes, leads come from the least expected resources.
Kostiw said that an often-overlooked need of frail seniors is nutritious meals. Setting up delivery through Instacart can make it easier to remain stocked up on fresh foods. For those struggling to prepare foods, Meals on Wheels and companies such as Real Eats in Geneva and Sweet Pea Plant-Based Kitchen in Rochester deliver balanced, heat-and-eat meals. Adult children can also help by prepping a few foods such as a pot of homemade soup, a tossed salad and a fruit salad that will last a few days. Or cook a few meals ahead and portion them as frozen meals for the senior to heat up later.
Kostiw recommended seeking housekeeping help for aiding the elder in bigger tasks such as making up the bed or a deep spring cleaning.
“It’s important for people to be honest with themselves and say, ‘What are the most difficult tasks that I’m willing to give up and let someone help me so I can concentrate on other things?’” she said. “We have to be smart and proactive about aging.”
She asks the elders where they want help and their answers often surprise their families. Reaching out for help from an agency or friends and family can be difficult. However, it is vital to realize that getting help can often improve the quality of care. This strategy can also help caregivers engage in self-care.
“Self-care is huge whenever we’re caring for anyone,” said Lisa D. Maynard, licensed master social worker at Tree of Hope Counseling in Rochester and yoga and meditation teacher. “That piece of self-care often takes a back seat. You can’t pour from an empty vessel.”
Maynard encourages caregivers to take time to stay physically fit, such engaging in yoga and walking. Extreme sports or running marathons isn’t required.
Maynard also sees value in finding time to socialize. That may require asking for assistance.
“I have friends who take care of elderly parents and it’s hard to find people to sit with their parents while they go out to lunch with friends,” she said. “A lot of friends and family members are willing to help.”
Caring for an elderly parent can test an adult child’s patience, particularly since they share history together. But Maynard encourages caregivers to try to remember the elders’ own frustration with pain and loss.
“Don’t just rush in and take over everything,” Maynard said. “Sometimes, the kids rush in and say ‘Mom can’t do that anymore’ when she can. Maybe parents can’t drive anymore but think about how limiting and isolating that can feel.”
Maintaining as much independence as possible can lighten the caregiving load and help elders keep their dignity. For example, elders who are unable to safely drive could opt for rideshare apps if someone helped them find the apps and practice using them. Or they could use www.gogograndparent, a site that after registration allows members to call a phone number to have an intermediary use apps such as Lyft, Uber, GrubHub, Instacart and others to arrange rides and deliveries.
Maynard encourages both caregivers and elders to consider mental health counseling about their life transitions if they find they’re struggling with the changing dynamic of their relationship or the circumstances that made caregiving necessary.
“At this point in their lives, caregivers are saying, ‘I wasn’t thinking of doing all of this work in retirement, but doing what I want, like travel,’” Maynard said. “Putting that on hold becomes difficult. It was not in the plan.”
Some caregivers experience guilt about feeling negatively about their role. But Maynard said those feelings — frustration, anger and even resentment — are normal. Caregivers can still offer good care if these feelings surface sometimes.
“It’s OK to feel like you don’t want to do this,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to. Those are all really normal feelings, but it doesn’t mean you don’t care and are a bad person. The truth of the matter is that this is hard work and it’s tiring.”
Seeking help from agencies, community groups, friends and family members can make caregiving easier.