As they tour the globe, rock stars Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney are putting a new face on aging, and 65 doesn’t seem so old anymore. In fact, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, baby boomers typically feel nine years younger than their biological clocks. But the truth is people are now entering retirement age at a break-neck speed in what’s being dubbed the “silver tsunami,” as more than 8,000 boomers are turning 65 each day.
The impact of this growing demographic makes it inevitable that many adults will find themselves in the role of caring for a parent, and the related emotional and physical challenges may feel as serious as a tsunami.
”When the train begins to leave the station, things start happening fast,” says Melanie Richardson, owner of Helping Hands, which offers senior-specific case management and referral services in Solano County. A big part of her job is coaching adults to find the courage to talk to their families about the complications of aging. “You want to have that conversation before it's a crisis, and while your parents still have the capacity to make their own decisions.”
During this process, Rochelle Sherlock of the Senior Coalition of Solano County reminds us, “It’s extremely difficult to see our parents with diminished capacity, and our roles change. There is grieving that happens, and family dynamics and tension, and it’s an emotionally difficult process. Caregivers have to be kind to themselves.”
This is critical advice for mid-lifers in today’s “sandwich generation,” who are caring for their own children at home while also taking the role of caregivers for their aging parents. It’s taking a toll. AgingCare.com reports that more than 30% of caregivers will become seriously ill or die before those they are caring for. Chronic stress is the greatest threat to these individuals, and few have time to acknowledge their own grieving process and its impact on their bodies. It’s no wonder that an astonishing 40 to 70 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
Part of the struggle for caregivers is that elders often hold on tight to their independence and resist changes, especially if it means leaving a lifelong home. The key to a successful transition is to engage seniors in the decision-making while honoring them and protecting their dignity. One of the common fears is the prospect of going into a nursing home, but there are numerous alternatives. Doing the research, relying on experts, and making site visits are key steps in the process.
Some of today’s options include (see web links below): assisted living or “aging in place” facilities, board and care facilities, or in-home care. Newer alternatives are various types of independent living options including intentional communities that are independently organized, providing shared caregivers and homemaking services. Continuing care communities are often privately owned and are a type of retirement community. Many facilities also offer memory care for those experiencing the challenges of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
When hospitalized or seriously ill, palliative care provides a team of health care providers who inform the family to make important health-related decisions, including choices related to medication and advanced health care directives. Distinct from hospice, palliative care is not oriented towards end of life issues.
With special concern for caregivers, the Area Agency on Aging in Solano County hosts a Caring for Caregivers symposium each July. Among its services, representatives meet with caregivers to assess the safety equipment in the home, (including weighted utensils for those with Parkinson’s, bathroom grab bars, hands-free telephones and more.) The agency also offers short-term respite care so caregivers can take time to recharge.
Respite care comes in many forms, including overnight care during recovery periods from a fall or illness. Senior day care centers offer supervised activities for those with a range of needs on an hourly or daily basis. The Benicia Senior Center offers activities such as Italian lessons, Zumba, or bus trips for more independent seniors. For just $3, seniors can stop by the Center each day at 11:30am for a nutritious meal provided by Meals on Wheels. These meals are also delivered to homebound seniors throughout the city. So yes, they still need you, and they still feed you when you’re 64.
Stay tuned for part two of this story touching on long-term health insurance, estate planning, Power of Attorney, Hospice Care and more.
www.AgingCare.com (Resources for Caregivers)
www.caregiveraction.org (National Family Caregiver Association)
www.aarp.org (American Association for Retired Persons)
www.aplaceformom.com (Elder Care Options)
www.aaans.org/ (Area Agency on Aging)
www.ci.benicia.ca.us (Benicia Senior Center)
mealsonwheelssolano.org (Meals on Wheels)
borntoage.com (Born to Age Solano County Resource Directory)