The changing face of caregiving
By Shannon Reyes
Having it all in today’s world often becomes more challenging with age. Juggling a full-time job, domestic responsibilities and caregiving duties can feel like a three-ring circus.
This is especially true for those younger seniors who are “sandwiched” between dueling caregiving responsibilities. “The sandwich generation refers to adults who are full-time caregivers for both their children and their parents,” said Cheryl Clark, director of the caregiver support program at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA).
The sandwich generation is a reflection of the emerging face of caregiving.
Adults are now waiting longer to have children, while their parents are living longer. This creates a strain of responsibilities for the adults who are stuck in the middle – between caring for children, caring for parents and working. It is becoming more common for these caregivers to reduce their hours at work or go part-time, which lowers their income, as well as their health and retirement benefits.
Another emerging group of caregivers that are facing similar challenges are those raising their grandchildren. Although they are grandparents, this is a relatively young group of caregivers, with many ranging in their 50s. Clark explained that in the last five years, the number of grandparent caregivers has grown exponentially. She assumes the growth is most likely linked to the opioid epidemic.
For over 30 years, PCA has provided relief services for those caring for loved ones. In 2018, the program assisted more than 750 caregivers with a range of services, including financial assistance, education and training, and care management.
“The goal of the program is to relieve the caregiver through financial resources and respite,” Clark said. “It’s to give them a break.”
This relief includes reimbursement for care expenses, developing a caregiver plan, referrals to caregiver support services and educational workshops on caregiving. For those raising grandchildren, the same benefits are offered, as well as financial reimbursement for child care, after-school programs/extracurricular activities and assistive devices.
For those who are looking to learn more, PCA’s Caregiver Support Program will hold its next Caregiver Workshop on Thursday, Nov. 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at PCA, 642 N. Broad St. The workshop will feature presentations on being curious, asking questions about care and will provide information and strategies to assist in decision making, methods to navigate health/social systems, and exploring care options. The event, which is free and open to the public, will also feature wellness activities for caregivers, including a Qigong workshop to improve mindfulness. To register for the workshop, contact Cheryl Clark at 215-765-9000, ext. 5300 or Cheryl.Clark@pcaCares.org.
Health and wellness is especially important for caregivers, who frequently put their own mental and physical needs last. “It is always part of our focus,” Clark said. “We believe that you have to take care to give care.”
In addition to taking care of oneself, Clark recommends a few things every caregiver can do to alleviate challenges:
- Don’t quit your job right away. Have a discussion with your boss or a human resources representative about your situation. Talk to them about alternatives to quitting your job, such as working part time, flexing time, taking family medical leave (FMLA) or telecommuting.
- Talk to family and friends. Speak to fellow friends at work or in your support network to find out ways they were able to juggle work and provide caregiving responsibilities.
- Speak with your loved one. Have an open and honest discussion about your loved one’s expectations of care and about alternative ways that care may be provided through programs, such as PCA’s Caregiver Support program and other long-term services available in the community.
- Create a plan of care. Create a care plan with family members or other informal supports to assist in providing care and stick to the plan. Consider all options including adult day centers, companions and personal care aides.
- Consult with a financial advisor. Be sure to review your retirement/pension benefits, which may be impacted, before you decide to stop working. Things to consider include health insurance and the impact on income. There are free services available that can assist individuals with lower incomes. Your employer’s employment assistance program representative can also provide financial resource assistance.
- Always set aside time for yourself. Make sure your plan involves time for yourself to stave off burnout. Review your plan on a regular basis to assure it changes as your needs change.
Clark also stresses that while it is important to care for a loved one, a caregiver must always address their own needs as well. The most fundamental needs, such as eating and sleeping, will make a significant difference in how a caregiver is able to care. She recommends participating in activities that preserve physical and mental health, such as exercising and gardening.
For more information on PCA’s Caregiver Support Program, visit pcaCares.org/caregivers or call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040.
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