In our Japanese American community, caring for loved ones who need help with everyday living, particularly our older family members, is nothing extraordinary. It’s part of who we are. Nearly every one of us is now a caregiver, has been a caregiver, will be a caregiver or will someday need a caregiver ourselves.
In my case, I fall into the “will be a caregiver” category. My mother is 89, and she is very independent now and still drives. On my last visit to see her in Chicago, she was willing to discuss moving to Virginia, where I live. Small win: The door was open for more conversation on her desire to be independent, yet much closer to our family.
We are not alone. Most American families carry out the tasks of caregiving for loved ones on their own. Two out of three older people who receive long-term services and support at home get all of their care from their family caregivers. It’s the family caregiver who is chiefly responsible for allowing millions of older Americans to remain in their own homes as they wish, and avoid much more costly nursing homes.
In our community — as in many others — family members undertake caregiving as a matter of course, and most find it a source of deep satisfaction and meaning. But it’s not an easy task, and it’s getting harder. The role of family caregivers has, by necessity, expanded dramatically in recent years.
Family caregivers traditionally have provided a broad array of care including bathing, dressing, feeding, managing personal finances, providing transportation and assisting with other household tasks.
But a national study — conducted by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund — called the “Home Alone” study — found that the role of many family caregivers has expanded to include performing tasks of the kind and complexity once provided only by professionals in hospitals and nursing homes, including administering IV fluids, giving injections and administering five to nine prescription medications a day.
And, from numerous other studies, we also know there is widespread lack of understanding about the new realities of caregiving, the need to prepare for them in advance and how and where to turn for help in doing so.
Already, as the American Psychological Assn. has noted, those who serve as family caregivers to aging relatives report higher levels of stress and poorer health than the population at large. Attempting to take on today’s caregiving demands with no advance preparation can exact an even heavier emotional and physical toll — a toll that can put family caregivers, themselves, at risk.
“Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families” includes extensive information, resources and tools AARP provides family caregivers on our website (www.aarp.org/caregiving).
This guide offers tips on how to approach the subject with a loved one and provides a solid framework to help prepare both prospective caregivers and their loved ones for the day when caregiving will be needed.
Here are some of the most important steps to take:
Start the Conversation Now: Don’t wait until a crisis occurs before talking with your loved one about his or her values, preferences and wishes for a caregiving situation.
Find Support and Form a Planning Team: No one should approach the responsibilities of caregiving alone. In addition to other family members, don?t hesitate to reach out to organizations and professionals with experience in helping family caregivers.
Develop a Plan: Today, it’s virtually essential to have a clear, agreed upon family caregiving plan in place when the need arises.
And one of the most overlooked, but vital aspects of caregiving is having a plan to care for the caregiver. Keeping up your energy and maintaining your health are critical in order to care for others. It’s just as important to make a plan to take care of yourself as it is to create a caregiving plan for others. Attention to both today could save you untold stress and heartache tomorrow.
I look forward to the day when my mom calls our home her home, and we can watch her favorite television shows together!
Ron Mori is a board member for the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter, and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.