It's that time of year again when we make those lists, either on paper or in our heads, of all the things we're going to "do better" or "fix" or "accomplish" in the new year. While New Year's resolutions are sometimes hard to keep, it is a perfect opportunity to look at the future and plan ahead.

Part of our life's plan will most likely include caring for an older loved one - a parent, a spouse, an in-law, a favorite aunt, etc. - which of course brings me to my mantra on how to get us all to try to plan for a role most of us will play: Caregiver.

Resolution #1 – Plan on Being a Caregiver

Caregiving is a lifestage we all face – one way or another we will be involved in caring for an adult with some type of disability or an older loved with a chronic illness - such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease or cancer - or other issues that come with aging such as a broken hip from a fall, hearing impairment, memory loss, etc.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter said it best:
You either have been a caregiver,
You are a caregiver today,
You will be a caregiver,
Or someone will be caregiving for you.

Approximately 44 million Americans are caring for someone over the age of 50. The average profile of a caregiver today is a 48-year-old woman caring for her 72-year-old mother. However, as we all live longer, you could become a caregiver in your 60s or 70s for a parent in their 90s.

Resolution #2 - Create A Caregiving Plan

We're a nation that responds in a crisis but when it comes to long-term planning, we're not quite so active. According to statistics, the average length of time you'll spend caregiving is 4.6 years, but many caregivers can spend 18 years or more in their role. The mystery is that it's hard to know how long you'll be on this journey.

While it's hard to plan for the unknown, you can at least start with what you do know. A checklist for understanding the situation as it stands today includes:

  • Know your parent's wishes for long-term care.
  • Know what their long-term care insurance or other plans include (recently a friend of mine thought her mom's LTC plan would be sufficient, but it only lasted for three years.)
  • Find out whether your parent or loved one has the proper legal documents prepared - Health Care Directives, Durable Power of Attorney -- medical/health and financial, etc. This can help avoid some family conflict when the crisis occurs.
  • Have the conversation with your parent, and with the rest of the family, on how the plan will work. Who will be the primary caregiver? What financial assistance for your loved one might be needed? Will others in the family contribute? Etc. Sometimes these family discussions are complicated. If you feel you need some insights on how to approach difficult family situations, check out Francine Russo's book, They're Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy.
Resolution #3 - Remember Caregiving Includes Caring for Yourself

This may be the hardest resolution to keep. I've talked to caregivers all over the country and what tends to happen is that we take care of everyone else - spouse, children, our career/job - but unfortunately give ourselves short shrift. This is why so many caregivers become as ill or worse than the person for whom they provide care. In fact, statistics show that caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop multiple chronic illnesses earlier in life and can suffer increased stress and a syndrome known as "caregiver burn-out."

What is important to remember is that if you become ill or run down, who will then care for your loved ones? So, have a plan to maintain your own health and wellness:

  • Keep those doctor appointments
  • Try to stick to a healthy nutrition plan
  • Get some form of exercise even if it is just a few minutes of walking a day to relieve your stress
  • Stay connected to friends and activities you love that will help your own well-being

Make a resolution to take charge and feel empowered by developing a caregiving plan that works for you. Here's to a Happy, Healthy, Caring New Year!

Featured Partners & Friends

Given the many crucial issues surrounding the physical, mental, emotional, and lifestyle demands associated with caregiving, it’s important for families to be aware of where to go for answers, support, and encouragement.

AARP

Alzheimer's Disease Research Center

Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer's Disease: A Guide for the Home Caregiver
by Peter Rabins, M.D., MPH, and Ann Morrison, RN, Ph.D.

firstSTREET Online

Health Style Press

Lotsa Helping Hands

Meals on Wheels

National Alliance For Caregiving

National Area Agencies on Aging

United Health Care