This is an unprecedented time in American History. People are living longer and postponing retirement. And with 10,000 people a day turning 65… the need for caregivers is greater than ever. It could be a sudden accident or illness, or just the natural aging process. But as Steve Sanders reports, many people are finding themselves unprepared to navigate the maze of caregiving options and costs.
This is one family’s story.
“Buckle up- Molly. Where’s our toys? We don’t have toys in this car.” It’s a Monday morning, and Melissa O’Hara is taking her two kids, 5 year old Jack, and 3 year old Molly, grocery shopping. “I thought motherhood was hard. And motherhood is a piece of cake compared to caregiving.” They’re not shopping for themselves today… “I’m thirsty. OK- I’ll get you something in just a minute but I gotta help Grandma get in first.” … but for Melissa’s mother, Carole Klarman.
“You have to shift that way a little bit, to your left.” Until March of last year, Carole was taking care of Jack and Molly. That ended the day Carole couldn’t tie her own shoes. “They took an MRI and they found a big tumor up there. That was how we discovered it.” The diagnosis; brain cancer. Two surgeries have left Carole partially paralyzed. The medication has caused her to gain more than 100 pounds. And the always independent Carole, the woman who herself was a caregiver just 18 months ago, now needs care, round the clock. “It’s hard to juggle”, says daughter Melissa. “And I feel I’m torn with being a good daughter and honoring my parents. And then I feel torn with being a good mom to my children.”
Carole’s husband Ken still works full time. “Our life has changed 100%. With the small children it was very hard for her to help us, but she has been a trooper.” Melissa works two part-time jobs and juggles chores for both households. She has siblings, but she’s the closest. Ken takes the night shift, Melissa the day. And when their work schedules collide, they bring in paid help, or take Carole to adult day care.
Gail Niksic is a senior care consultant for Elderwerks.com. “They should not feel guilty that someone else is taking care of their loved one. There are some great professionals doing that.” Niksic says people often make unrealistic promises to family members, which can lead to a very high burn-out factor for caregivers. “I always tell people to be patient, and also to be kind to themselves. If you cannot take care of yourself, you are of no value to the person you’re taking care of.” Jody Gastfriend of Care.com says caregivers tend not to reach out and get help. And a full 80% of caregivers in this country are un-paid family members.
Melissa O’Hara is among the 60% of caregivers still in the work force with children at home, the so-called sandwich generation. Gastfriend says people are often unprepared for the emotional and financial costs of caregiving. And Medicare does NOT cover it. “The average cost of an individual caregiver is $20 an hour. And the average cost of a nursing home in this country is over 80-thousand a year.”
Niksic’s best advice; Do not do this alone. “Enlist the help of people. Access all the community resources. Talk to the family doctors. Get the help that you need sooner than later. You can always plan and make good choices early on rather than react in a crisis.” Gastfriend says the worst time to make decisions is in the emergency room- so plan now- now matter what your age and level of well-being. “If you do plan appropriately, if you do have the right supports, if you do have the right care, if you get everything in place that there are joys in caregiving, there are great rewards in caregiving.”
Melissa says her family is seeing those rewards every day in the kindness Jack and Molly show their grandmother. “My kids are learning this life lesson that they would have never had the opportunity to learn had my Mom not gotten sick. Of course I would not want her to be sick. But I feel like, my kids have been transformed in this last year and a half. Just the compassion that just my son in general shows.”
“We don’t know what the future holds for us or for her,” says Carole’s husband, Ken. “And at some point in time we may have to do something different, but right now it is, it’s working for us.” Steve Sanders, WGN News.Carole has spent the past few weeks in the hospital but is expected to be released next week. Our experts say the most successful caregivers are the ones who realize they can’t do it alone and ask for help. You can find Jody and Gail and a long list of valuable resources to answer your caregiving questions by clicking these links.