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Managing caregiver stress

September 2018 | Kathleen M. Rose, Esq., LMSW
Managing caregiver stress
By Kathleen Rose, Esq., LMSW
In case of emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. If you are traveling with a loved one, please put on your own mask before helping others.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this speech during takeoff, and a vast majority of you may feel it’s unnatural and selfish to help yourself before your loved ones. However, if you don’t secure your own oxygen mask first, your effectiveness in helping other people will be severely compromised.

I have referenced the above metaphor throughout my career as an elder law attorney and social worker, specifically in reference to the challenges facing caregivers. Family members, friends and other unpaid caregivers provide the backbone for much of the care received by older adults in the United States, with such care valued at approximately $470 billion (AARP, 2013).

Approximately 66 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the past 12 months (Emblem Health, 2018). Yet, caregivers are often the forgotten or silent patients. Many caregivers endure financial strain, depression and isolation, feelings of guilt, and emotional and physical stress.

Other caregivers find themselves thrust into crisis planning under great pressure to arrange for immediate long-term care. Advanced planning and accessing local resources can assist with reducing these stresses by addressing a number of legal, health and financial issues that arise throughout the aging continuum.

The following are some tips to help you prevent or manage caregiver stress:

1. Consult an elder care attorney to assist with the complex legal issues of long-term care.

2. Prepare a medical emergency packet, including a one-page summary of your loved one’s medical history; current medications and physician information; copies of identification and insurance cards (front and back); and copies of advanced directives (such as a Health Care Proxy). Then, provide these packets to loved ones and other caregivers. You should also keep one on your refrigerator in the event of an emergency, as EMTs are trained to look for such information.

3. Enroll your loved one in a Senior Adult Day Care Program. There are two types of such programs for seniors – the social model and medical model. Social model day care services are community-based programs that offer socialization, supervision, personal care, recreation and a nutritious meal in a protective setting to frail or impaired elderly adults who cannot remain alone (but do not require 24-hour residential care).

Medical model day care programs address the social and medical needs of impaired older adults and the elderly through a team of health care professionals. The services provided through the medical model include assistance with activities of daily living, medication administration, nursing care, social services and various ancillary services. Medical adult day care is paid for through private funds or community Medicaid.

4. Organize your loved one’s financial records. Create a folder for pension statements, insurance policies, credit card statements, Social Security disability, 401(k)/IRA retirement accounts, checking and savings account statements, bills, legal documents, loans, mortgage, and personal loans.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Contact your local department of social services, primary care physician, organizations such as the Family Caregiver Alliance or your health insurance company to connect with local support groups as well as trained health professionals. For additional tools regarding caregiving or aging, visit caregiverslibrary.org.

If you have any questions about the matters discussed in this article, please contact your Legal Service Plan’s National Legal Office at 800-292-8063 or 631-231-1450.