Role Reversal: Caregiving for Aging Parents
When an aging parent needs caregiving, the children often need to take responsibility. But what happens when only one of many siblings steps up to the plate?
Hannah Kalil is 83 years old, and lives by herself in upstate New York. She
has aides who help with her caregiving throughout the day. But the
responsibility of managing her finances, health care -- both mental and
physical -- and long-term living situation falls to one person: her daughter --
and my mother -- Eleanor.
It's almost a full-time job. Making sure my grandmother is happy and not
feeling lonely means daily visits. Her never-ending stream of medical issues
means weekly -- if not more frequent -- trips to the doctors. Paying her rent
and her aides while keeping an eye on the bottom line means constant vigilance
if she is going to have any financial security in the long term. Finally, my
mother must deal with the endless stack of paperwork for Medicaid and health
To make matters worse, my mother shoulders these responsibilities on her own
-- despite the fact that her two brothers and sister all live nearby.
This situation is not uncommon: When an aging parent needs care, it's often
one child out of several siblings who steps up to the plate to offer help. And
with more Americans living longer -- to 75 years and beyond -- this scenario
will only become more familiar.
WebMD talked to experts for their insights into the aging of America. What
it means for adult children, like my mother, who are put in a position to care
for their aging parents. How the one child who shoulders the responsibility of
parent-care can enlist the help of others, without starting a family war.
Aging in America
The dynamic of age in America has shifted dramatically over the last 60 to
80 years, experts agree, and its impact on the family is clear.
"There is definitely a changing age structure within families
today," says Neal Cutler, PhD. He is the executive director of the Center
on Aging for the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodlawn Hills, Calif.
"Its cause is simply greater longevity."
With more Americans living well beyond their 70s, more adult children are
now left in a position where they have to be caregivers for their aging
"There's a greater likelihood today that, as a 55-year-old, you will
have surviving parents, than there was say in the 1920s when both parents
passed away before you reached the age of 50," says Cutler, who is also
dean of the American Institute of Financial Gerontology. "This means that
middle-agers, who are planning for their own older years, also have to think
about their parents."
To complicate matters, one adult child of an aging parent often bears the
responsibility of the parent's care alone. What factors play a part in
determining who takes on the care of Mom or Dad?
"There is a gender bias in terms of who cares for an aging parent,"
says Lisa Hollis-Sawyer, PhD, coordinator of the Gerontology Program at
Northeastern Illinois University. "It's fairly universal that we think of
women as a caregiver, so their role in helping an elderly parent is not