The Silent Majority: Adult Children as Caregivers

by Jan Simpson

I met for lunch with a woman who drove her car through her garage door, distraught over a telephone call from her elderly father. I received an email from another: her 85-year old uncle is suicidal. One friend visits a local nursing home daily before work and another lives with the guilt that a decision he made may have inadvertently led to his father’s weakened medical condition. These are the lives of your colleagues at work, juggling the demands of work and family, who silently have assumed a new responsibility: the care of their aging parents.

There is no escaping this stage in life. Parents age. They may live with diabetes or arthritis, cancer or heart disease.  They may have a stroke or break a hip. Or they may simply reach the age of 85 or 90 or 94 when they cannot live alone. You may be the one who needs to help them, the family member who coordinates their care, who solicits help from siblings and others, who assumes, over time, the role of the caregiver. The good news is that you’re not alone. Today, more than 50 million Americans are supporting an older loved one. The average age of an adult caregiver is 50-54. You may face tuition bills and assisted living choices, teenage drivers and visiting nurses, midnight calls from an anxious elderly parent or a teenage daughter asking to stay out late. This is what they didn’t discuss in those parenting classes you took when your children were young. This is what you won’t know about your co-worker, who looks worn at the morning meeting, dark circles under his eyes. Or your neighbor, who waves hello and smiles, but seems distant and strained.

How do you ask for help when you aren’t sure what to do for your aging parent? How do you offer a neighbor or a co-worker help without seeming intrusive on his or her personal life?

A few weeks ago, Ned Rimer, founder of the Chronic Care Community Corps, was on public radio in Boston. I met Ned two years ago when he was starting to research how to best help families who support an elderly loved one. Ned interviewed physicians and caregivers, elders and health care professionals. From those interviews he developed an interactive seminar series that he piloted last October. I was fortunate to be among the seminar participants. Through role playing and readings, case studies and candid conversations, Ned and his colleague Dr. Loring Conant, facilitated a deeper knowledge about how family members, friends, and co-workers can best support a family caregiver. I encourage you to listen to Ned’s interview on WBUR here and read more about his work here. Consider hosting a seminar at your work, your place of worship, or a neighborhood group.(A reminder: I do not have a financial arrangement with Ned Rimer or the Center for Applied Ethics.)

In twenty years, there will be 70 million Americans over the age of 65  living in our communities. We can all benefit by learning how to offer meaningful support to our aging parents, neighbors and work colleagues. And, in a few decades, our children will be the ones needing that support.

Are you aware of other organizations that provide support to family caregivers?

©Circle of Life Partners™