When David Bowen’s father fell taking out the trash in 2016, it set in motion a series of health challenges the family is still battling together. Bowen, 62, hired a part-time professional caregiver to assist his father along with his mother, who was battling Alzheimer’s, but he found himself serving as a caregiver much of the time, too.
“I’d go by [their home] after work three days a week; we called it the ‘40-mile triangle’ – 40 miles to work, 40 miles to their house, then 40 miles back home,” Bowen said. “I’d stop and get dinner on the way, sit and visit, redress dad’s wounds and humor mom, then head for home.”
David Bowen, left, sits with his wife, Nancy, and his late mother, Barbara, and father, Ray.
Caregivers are the unsung heroes of the health care system. The time commitment required can mean increased stress and anxiety, which can affect family dynamics, nutrition habits, physical fitness and overall wellbeing. Many family members take unpaid leave from their jobs, reduce work hours, change careers or quit altogether to care for an aging loved one.
What’s more, one recent study revealed that two of three caregivers reduce their living expenses to pay for the medical and practical demands of their loved ones, yet nearly half of future caregivers said they have made no financial plans to prepare.
And while this can be a very real and challenging part of the caregiving experience, caregivers take immense pride in this important role, and most wouldn’t trade the opportunity. In fact, a recent study found that 91 percent of caregivers feel grateful to care for someone and 77 percent would do it again.
“I certainly would not choose to be in this position,” said Bowen, who since his mother passed away earlier this year now visits his father daily in an assisted-living center nearer to Bowen’s own home. “But they are my parents. Anything my dad needs now, he gets it.”
Regardless of the circumstances that lead someone to assume the role of a caregiver, and whether they do so willingly, out of a sense of obligation or a mix of both, one thing is certain: caregivers need and deserve support as they navigate a demanding, emotional and critical responsibility.
The good news is there are resources and services available to help care for the caregivers. Read on to learn about organizations and programs that can make life as a caregiver a bit easier.
- The National Family Caregiver Support Program offers medical, emotional, financial and legal advice and training to adult family members who provide in-home and community care for people aged 60 or older and to people older than 55 who care for children under 18.
- AARP’s Caregiver Resource Center offers guides for first-time caregivers, families and those who care for a loved one at home. These include guidance on financial and legal considerations and advice on how to maintain caregiver-life balance. AARP offers a list of local resources by state.
- While the Administration for Community Living doesn’t work directly with individuals, it can be a good place for a caregiver to start on the circuitous path to financial support. The organization provides funds to help older adults and people with disabilities live where they choose to for as long as they can, whether that be at home or in an assisted-living facility, and it has provided billions of dollars to programs in every state.
- UnitedHealthcare has been proactively addressing the needs of caregivers by sharing information and resources with those in need. Its Solutions for Caregivers program, for example, is a customizable website for eligible members to get advice from medical professionals, financial advisors and experienced care managers; take advantage of discounted products and services; and access educational resources. Non-members can register as guests and check out the comprehensive directory of organizations that focus on such specific issues as Parkinson’s disease, substance abuse, blindness, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. UnitedHealthcare also offers free monthly caregiver education calls, open to the public.
- The National Alliance for Caregiving focuses on caregiving research, innovation and technology, state and local caregiving coalitions, and international caring. It is working to build a global network of caregiver support organizations.
- The Caregiver Action Network serves a broad spectrum of family caregivers, ranging from parents of children with special needs, to families and friends of wounded soldiers, to adult children caring for parents with Alzheimer’s disease. With a mission to promote resourcefulness and respect for the more than 90 million family caregivers across the country, the Caregiver Action Network provides free education, peer support and resources.
- The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, provides a search tool that allows visitors to search by topic and location for services pertaining to older adults and their families.
- And finally, when faced with the difficult circumstances surrounding end-of-life care, the Hospice Foundation of America offers straightforward advice on selecting a hospice and bereavement tools to help navigate the stages of death and the complicated emotions that come with grief.
“Dad and I, we’re trying to put a new life together for him, and it’s tough,” said Bowen. “But support from all over has kept me on my feet and moving forward. Amid all the challenges, I am grateful for that.”