I Worry About Old People
Well, it may not be politically correct but I am trying to get your attention. I worry about old people. A lot. I worry about lonely old people. I worry about depressed old people. I worry about sick old people. I worry about neglected old people. I worry that we are not collectively worried more about old people.
I have never been one to see a glass as half empty. I am usually an upbeat and borderline obnoxious "happy" person. I smile. I believe in the general goodness of people. I believe that there is no sense in judging the way someone else is living their life unless you are willing to be a part of it. I believe in free speech. I believe in respecting people's passions, hopes and dreams. I believe in encouraging, promoting and celebrating common decency between people regardless of race, religion, politics, sexual and lifestyle preference, social or economic status and age. I would really like to see people be just a tiny bit kinder to one another.
And, I worry about old people. And, you should too.
So, there was an article published today in CNN's Health section authored by Andree LeRoy, M.D. titled Exhaustion, anger of caregiver get name and it is well worth a quick read and some consideration. There appears to be a growing concern that caregivers, both professional and familial(informal), are suffering and may not even be aware of it. According to Dr. LeRoy's article, the medical community is on the verge of defining a new medical condition, "caregiver syndrome". However, "caregiver syndrome" can't become a medically acceptable diagnosis (meaning insurance won't pay for it) until the American Psychiatric Association adopts and publishes the syndrome, it's definition, diagnosis and treatment in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But, don't hold your breath, the next publication is due sometime in 2010 and it is not clear enough acceptable research and studies will be published and available for review to satisfy the APA for proper consideration. Regardless of the potential APA anointment, caregivers are more susceptible to mental and physical maladies than doctor's are recognizing and treating.
However, I am glad to see that mainstream media is sounding the alarm. Are you paying attention?
According to the Brookings Institution Mapping the Growth of Older America report, by 2010 more than 76 million people over the age of 55 will live in the United States. That number is estimated to explode to 97 million by 2020. That is not a lot of time for us to figure out how we, as a country, are going to manage the expected impacts of our aging population on the public and private infrastructures of our lives. Most elderly resources are already stretched when it comes to elderly services and resources. Retirement communities are popping up all over the country. Weekly classifieds, online career websites and even Johnson & Johnson commercials are looking, begging, for people to consider careers in nursing and health care. Reverse mortgages are being hawked by lending companies and home security companies are offering 24 hour emergency communication devices that look like jewelry. We have seen an explosion of geriatric related medicine to manage cholestoral, high blood pressure, male and female incontinance, diabetes, arthritis, impotence and there surely more to come. Not to mention clothing, shoes, food, vitamins, home accessories, vacations, travel and social clubs, dating and shopping services and exercise programs specifically developed to serve the AARP eligible consumer. There is improved surgical technologies to replace joints, teeth, organs and hair. Others may take advantage of lasers to improve eyesight, clean up vericose veins and erase crow's feet. The collective will and financial backing of the 80 million aging baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1965, have revised, reshaped and redefined every aspect and expectation of religion, government, education, medicine, business and society. Hip, hip, hooray!
But, are we prepared to care for this high maintenance, high expectation elderly baby boomer generation?
It is unwise to underestimate the financial impact, potential health risks and significant life disruption that eldercare demands. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance published report Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures, not surprisingly, women shoulder the lion's share of "informal" caregiving responsibilities. The report also offered some personally surprising statistics. It cites the National Alliance for Caregiving, & AARP Family caregiving in the U.S.: Findings from a national survey when they report that the average caregiver is age 46, female, married and working outside the home earning an annual income of $35,000.
While individual caregiving responsibilities and circumstances vary, most situations will require time, financial, emotional and medical resources. Others caregivers may also require legal assistance, home and vehicle modifications to accommodate wheelchairs, estate management, temporary relocation, flexible work arrangements, a federally protected unpaid leave of absence, or even face early work retirement. In addition to direct caregiving costs, studies suggest that women suffer greater financial impacts due to the time demands required as a caregiver. The stressful balance of work and caregiving often asks women to suffer lost wages, less favorable employee reviews, missed raises and potential promotion opportunities due to work absences. Long term financial implications include reduced savings and pension contributions and lost pension or retirement income due to early retirement.
Financial and environmental stressors play a significant part in a caregiver's physical and mental well-being. Caregivers often overlook or dismiss their own physical and mental needs as they are tending to the well-being of another. Caregivers are physically prone to battle high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and hypertension, poor diet and exhaustion. While heavy emotions surrounding the declining health of a loved one leaves caregivers quite vulnerable to depression, anxiety attacks and aggressive behavior. Uncomfortable and unmanaged feelings of guilt, resentment, grief and even anger can fuel alcohol and substance abuse and even lead to addiction. Caregiving often significantly changes the interpersonal dynamics in marriages, sibling, extended family, friends and co-worker relationships.
This is what my father calls a "pay me now or pay me more" situation. If you currently care for, or anticipate caregiving for, a spouse, parent, in-law, other relative, neighbor or friend, there is much you can discuss, plan and arrange in advance to reduce the stress and complications that often surround eldercare. Having cerebral and inclusive conversations regarding the management of finances, legal authorities, medical care, living arrangements, end of life decisions and funeral desires greatly assist family, friends and professionals in establishing both general and specific eldercare expectations. As awkward and uncomfortable it may be, it is in everyone's best interest to make and document many of these decisions in the absence of high emotion and intense pressure.
I very highly recommend visiting www.Caregiving.org and reading Aging Parents and Common Sense - A Practical Guide for You and Your Parents published by Axa Equitable to get you started. This award winning publication offers important tips and strategies to get the conversation started.
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