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Serving as Caregiver Takes Toll as You Age

Seniors Caring for Seniors

Experts urge training, support and rest for aging caregivers as seniors caring for seniors in retirement becomes increasingly common.

As people live longer, caregivers can expect to spend years caring for a spouse or even a parent. And older caregivers, many in their seventies or eighties themselves, often grapple with special challenges: their own failing health, isolation as friends die and physical tasks that can strain aging bodies.

Joe, 76, has been caring for his wife, Jane, 74, since she began showing symptoms of Lewy body dementia in 2012. Bedridden for the past year, Jane cannot speak, does not recognize her husband and has no control over her bodily functions. Searles opted to keep Jane at home because he says he believes “a nursing home is not going to take care of her properly. She needs me, and I am there for her.”

They have access to Home Care attendant, who helps out eight hours daily. But Joe, who is being treated for a spinal condition, still performs painful physical tasks caring for his wife. Although he sees a couple of friends, he spends most of his time alone. When Jane became ill, Joe gave up his work as a professional engineer.

Joe and Jane are part of what experts say is a growing trend: seniors caring for seniors. About 7% of caregivers are 75 or older, typically a woman caring for a husband or other adult relative, according to a 2015 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute. In Canada, about 30,000 seniors spend about 34 hours a week helping with such arduous tasks as bathing, dressing and using a toilet.

For many older caregivers, physical chores, such as helping a spouse from a bed to a chair, can lead to falls and other injuries.  Wives will sacrifice their own health to keep their husbands at home.  Because they often put off their own care, they get sicker and die earlier than non-caregivers.  Also, changing colostomy bags, giving injections and performing other nursing tasks are daunting especially when you’re older and not getting enough sleep.

Seek Out Support & Assistance

Caregivers should look to associations that focus on their loved one’s medical condition as these groups offer caregiver training, support groups and advice on how to address the needs of a person with a specific disease.

Give Yourself A Break

Home alone all day with a loved one, older caregivers tend to be more isolated—and thus more depressed—than younger caregivers. It is crucial to have a social network – to ask for assistance, to maintain contact with others, to run an errand, to get out to bingo.  There are many services in the city that you can arrange respite services with.  My personal favourite is Home Instead.  They will assist with whatever you need help with at home other than nursing care.  Letting someone else take over for a few hours provides the respite a caregiver needs to improve and maintain their mental health.

Stay Healthy

Because older caregivers need all the strength they can get, experts recommend that they eat well, visit their own doctor and exercise.  The caregiver is of no use to the ill individual if they become unwell.  ‘Just like on the airplane, the message is “Don your own (oxygen) mask first before assisting others”.

Tips for Older Caregivers

  • Reduce loneliness by joining support groups and seeing friends.
  • Seek occasional respite by hiring an aide or placing a loved one in adult day care.
  • Get training on the best ways to protect against falls and back injuries.
  • Ask a professional for instructions on cleaning a wound and other nursing tasks.
  • Use technology for reminders of medications, appointments and chores.
  • Register for informative emails

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