New to Caregiving? What to Do. Where to Turn.

05/31/2017 03:26 pm ET Updated May 31, 2017

Caregivers comprise 29% of the U.S. population, 66 million people who control 85% of the buying decisions. Seventy-percent are women; 25 percent are Millennials. Six out of ten caregivers are in the workforce and 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. Caregivers often neglect their own health and well-being. In addition to health consequences, caregivers suffer financially. Seventy percent of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties due to their dual caregiving roles. Ten million caregivers over 50 lose an estimated $3 trillion in lost wages, pensions, retirement funds and benefits.

Being a caregiver is one of the most important roles you’ll ever play. It can happen suddenly, with an accident or illness, or a new diagnosis. You may find yourself taking time off from work, making meals or handling finances. All of a sudden you’re in it. Where do you start? Here are some tips I shared on the Charlotte Today Show.

  1. Have the Talk. Often caregiving happens when a crisis hits and people react. How can you avoid this being a crisis? First, talk about the issues before there is an issue. Both of the co-hosts on Charlotte Today know people who have been thrust into caregiving situations unexpectedly. However, if they had done some “what if” thinking and scenario planning, it would not be crisis planning but advanced planning. Look for an opening in daily life – an article or news story; something going on with a friend, a celebrity who has announced he/she has Alzheimer’s - these are openings to have a conversation with a loved one. They will resist so keep trying. Then bring family members into this.
  2. Bring in the Family. You can’t saddle yourself with all of the responsibility. I have seen how siblings can be divided over these issues and even how families grow apart from one another. That is why these conversations can’t wait. Everybody needs to know where everyone else stands and also realize that a fully cognizant loved still makes the final decisions. Could be that the family does not reach consensus. Then you know where you stand. You have to be prepared for that too. And if there is no family then you need a team. Do you know people who can pitch in with meal organizing, bill paying, or financial assistance? Time to tap them. Research the community support nearby a loved one - churches, senior centers, doctors, hospitals, transportation, food delivery, etc. Use online tools to organize like Lotsa Helping Hands.
  3. Taking care of yourself has to be an important part of your plan. There are some scary statistics about caregivers pre-deceasing their loved one. My sister did. Up to 60% die before the loved one they are caring. You have to keep up with your healthcare and your own doctor appointments. You have to continue to exercise and eat right. You have to be mindful of your own finances. Caregiving families can incur significant debt caring for a loved one. Before I was the physical caregiver to mom, my wife and I supported her financially, allowing her to live independently in her own condo. Give yourself a break. More and more respite programs and adult day centers are popping up. Have fun. Be with friends. In fact you may find out who really are your friends because of this. No matter. Make new friends with other caregivers.
  4. Want real respite. Go on a Cruise! Next January 13 I am hosting the Caregiver Smile Cruise to the Caribbean. It’s a vacation and conference where you can gain knowledge, create new friendships, and deepen relationships with other family members and older loved ones. You should consider this first and foremost for respite. I am encouraging families to go together with their older loved ones. It’s a supportive environment to discuss important family issues. Families can have fun and learn about the issues ahead and plan for them together. In fact, everyone will learn something about how to prepare for their own aging too. You will meet other caregivers and former caregivers forming a mutual support network. You will learn a lot. I have assembled a team of legal, financial and elder care specialist including people living with dementia. I will be entertaining and speaking during the trip as well.
  5. Support a Caregiver. I have established a funding template that others can use to start a funding campaign for a deserving individual or couple. We are encouraging hospitals and other health providers to honor caregivers too through events that culminate in a heroic caregiver being awarded a cruise.
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