Surviving the Caregiver Crisis

Modern day caregivers seem so overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for aging relatives compared to our parents, who seemed to be able to care for elderly loved ones with much more ease.

What accounts for this difference? Why is caregiving so much harder these days? The reason is: This is not your mother’s caregiving. Life is more complicated.

Today, caregivers support parents, in-laws, grandparents and other older adults, often simultaneously. Ideally, caregiving should be a shared responsibility; however, those who have no siblings often shoulder these duties alone. Some even supervise care from afar, performing caregiving tasks from long distance. Along with handling these responsibilities, caregivers often manage marriages, careers and childrearing (and, in some cases, grandchildrearing).

This constant juggling of responsibilities is very stressful. If caregivers drop any one of these balls, their own health, happiness or financial security may be at stake. No other generation of Americans has had to shoulder this level of burden. The stakes are much greater today than they ever have been.

This explains the current crisis in caregiving. However, despite the difficulties, it is possible give great care without sacrificing your own physical, financial, emotional or spiritual health. Here are some tips to help you ease the strain:

  • Don’t put your head in the sand. If there is even a hint of concern about whether or not your senior needs help, check it out immediately. Why is Mom so forgetful? Should Dad be driving? Can my parents continue to live alone? Is their medication meeting their needs? Consult with a doctor who specializes in geriatric care. She can perform a comprehensive geriatrics assessment, which will answer these other questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t try to be “Super Caregiver.” In many families, one or two people are often the ones trying to provide 24 hours of care. This is difficult to do. In nursing facilities, it takes at least three shifts of nurses to provide quality care to one patient. You cannot do this alone.
  • It takes a village. As in the case of a child, it takes a village to support an older adult. Neighbors can alert you to problems before they become dangers. Friends and relatives can give you support and much needed respite.
  • Take your hands off the steering wheel. Some caregivers actually discourage help by being too rigid and tied to a specific routine. Follow the care plan prescribed by the patient’s doctor, but don’t get caught up in minutia. As long as it is in line with the prescribed plan, let your helpers provide care in their own way.
  • Protect the primary resource. That means you! You cannot give care, supervise care or advocate for another’s care when you are physically ill, financially strapped, emotionally exhausted or spiritually bankrupt. Keep your doctor’s appointments and follow your doctor’s advice.Protect your finances and plan for your own healthy retirement. Exercise, rest, take a class, pursue a hobby, join a group, maintain your other relationships and nurture your spirit. By taking care of yourself, you are taking care of your aging loved one.

About the Author

Cheryl E. Woodson, MD, FACP, AGSF, has taught and practiced geriatrics for more than 25 years.  She is the author of How to Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice on Finding Hope, Help and Health (order at


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