Caught Off-guard (Filling the Role of a Family Caregiver)

Planning for old age is like studying for a big test. You may study for weeks on a wide range of materials and feel completely confident and ready when you walk into that testing room, only to look down at the test and realize that you have no idea what any of the questions are saying. The test should have been easy; you knew all of the material. The problem is you knew all the wrong material for that particular test. There could have been no way to know exactly what would be on the test until you were sitting right in front of it.

The National Care Planning Council is a strong advocate of long-term care planning, and we should take as many precautions and make as many decisions as possible ahead of time. Unfortunately though, we will never be prepared for everything. Life is littered with unexpected events, one of those being when you suddenly find yourself a family caregiver for your aging parents.

Julie Baldocchi had this event happen to her just a month ago when her mother had a stroke. She expressed feelings of being unprepared and overwhelmed. She said, “Even if you plan intellectually and legally, you’re never ready for the emotional impact.”

More than forty-two million Americans provide daily caregiving for a member of their family. “Family caregivers take over many responsibilities. One might manage a parent’s finances, while another sibling will take the parent to doctors’ appointments and shopping. Those who move in with a parent take on a significant and sustained burden of care.” (USA Today)

It’s not an easy task that family caregivers take on, but it is a task that many take on willingly. As we enter our adult years and watch our parents age, many of us don’t think that one day soon we may find ourselves in a caregiver position. Though taking on the role of a family caregiver is something we can never fully be prepared for, we can help reduce the stress when we are placed in that situation by recognizing now that one day the caregiver position may be ours to fill.

Jan Walker had this to say about giving care to her mother, “I always knew that this was the role that I would have, and I guess my mind was prepared for it.” Though we may prepare our minds, this major change in our lives could harm our bodies. As a family caregiver, you must look after your own health as well as your parents. According to a 2010 studying by MetLife, twenty percent of female caregivers aged fifty and older reported symptoms of depression. Baldocchi herself stated that after she became her mother’s caregiver, she lost thirty pounds due to stress.

Jennifer Cona, an elder-law attorney in New York, stated, “There is such a thing as caregiver burnout.” Though taking on the role of a family caregiver will bring many changes, don’t allow it to affect your health in a negative way. The task of being a family caregiver is often difficult and overwhelming, but, as Walker said, “most worthwhile things are hard.”

Taking on the role of a family caregiver often catches many off guard, but don’t let the fact that it’s unexpected deter you from filling that role well. As with a big test, we may not have a clue how to deal with the situations presented to us, but unlike a test, we have many resources to go to.

If you find yourself an unexpected family caregiver, you are not alone. Your local Area on Aging, the National Family Caregivers Association,, the National Care Planning Council, and many other organizations and resources are available to help lend support and provide answers to the many questions you will have.


About National Care Planning Council

The National Care Planning Council and its affiliated members are dedicated to helping families recognize the need for long term care planning. We are committed to raising awareness and providing information on common eldercare issues. Integrity, honesty, and a genuine concern for the elderly and their families are at the heart of our services.

Posted on May 8, 2012, in Family Caregivers and Care Management and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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