A recent report from the medical journal JAMA Neurology highlights the fact that women represent nearly two-thirds of all elder care and states, “the best long-term care insurance in this country is a conscientious daughter.” That may be good news for older Americans who are lucky to have an adult child caring for them, but could spell bad news for their daughters. Daughter care, as some have coined it, can be risky business for a woman.
Female caregivers often report work-related difficulties as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. They suffer loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security – to the tune of $300,000. That’s because many of them find the challenge of balancing caregiving and career to be unmanageable and so they switch to less demanding jobs, reduce their hours, or quit altogether. In addition, caregiving daughters report higher incidences of stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
With 10,000 people turning 65 every day in the United States, it is highly likely that if you aren’t already, at some point you will become a caregiver to your aging parent or parents. So how can you best prepare? Here are 3 important steps you can take to prepare for daughter care and minimize the impact on your career and health.
- Caregiver-proof your career. Caregiving will impact your career at some point, so takes steps now to minimize the impact. Lean in at work while you can. Build a reputation for being smart and dependable; you can trade on this brand equity later when you need flexibility to take your aging parent to doctor’s appointments or you have to leave work in a hurry to handle an emergency. Also, build your network before you need it. That way, if you do find yourself un- or under-employed at some point due to caregiving, you’ll have strong contacts you can turn to for leads and referrals.
- Start a dialogue with your parents. It is never easy talking about end-of-life issues, but starting those conversations before a crisis hits is easier than trying to sort things out when you, and your parents, are under stress. Ask your parents what their goals are for the next phase of their life. Do they want to age at home, or move to senior living? What is most important to them – autonomy or health and safety? Ask about their finances, their medical care and their end of life wishes. If they are open to it, have them add you as a co-signor to their bank account and appoint you as their Power of Attorney and healthcare proxy. Have them complete an advanced directive form with their primary care physician clearly stating what, if any, medical intervention they want if they become seriously ill. Ask for a copy of their will and find out if they have a burial plot. Having this information and access to their financial and medical records now, will make caring for them later so much easier.
- Develop good health habits. If and when you become a primary caregiver, you will most likely find it challenging to take care of yourself too. Start practicing self-care now so it becomes second nature to you. A healthy diet, hydration and good sleep habits are key to reducing the stress of caregiving.
Caring for an aging parent, especially when you are working, is stressful – there is no way around that fact. But with planning and preparation you can minimize the negative affects and hopefully appreciate the upside of taking care of the people who once took care of you.