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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?

Caregiving for an Aging Parent: Taking Charge continued...

"A family needs to think about how to help support the sibling in charge of a parent, either with help or compensation of some sort, to help defray the cost that they are incurring," says Steven Stern, PhD, a professor of economics at the University of Virginia, who specializes in aging and disability.

Understand the finances. "Talk to a financial planner about finances if you are caring for an aging parent on your own," says Cutler. "You may be able to take a parent as a dependent on your tax return, if you are paying for more than half of their well-being, such as rent, nursing home care, or food."

The financial aspects of caring for an aging parent need to be taken into consideration for the sake of your parent, but also for your own sake.

"Increasingly, the baby boomers will stay in the workforce longer, primarily because they can't retire on time because of the need to care financially or otherwise for a parent, maybe even a grandparent, and the cost of raising children," Hollis-Sawyer tells WebMD.

When help isn't forthcoming. If the productive discussion before a crisis strikes doesn't happen, and one child is left in charge with no support from his or her siblings, the key is still communication.

"This situation happens a lot," says Hollis-Sawyer. "When it does, the caregiver has to look at their options, and ask themselves questions like, 'Would I benefit by attempting to communicate my needs to others?'"

Reaching out to your siblings or other family members for support is a better option than trying to take on the situation entirely on your own.

"If you do reach out, and you don't get the help you need internally from your family, then it's time to look elsewhere," says Hollis-Sawyer. "Turn to your community for support, like county-wide respite-care programs, or caregiver support programs, or estate-planning consultations to understand the financial issues at hand."

It's not all about you. Pay attention to your parent and his or her needs, and remember that there are two people in this situation -- not just one.

"It's so important to realize that there is a lot of stress to being the care recipient," says Hollis-Sawyer. "There are just as many mental hurdles that need to be overcome for the aging parent -- like accepting care and depending upon someone else almost entirely later in life maybe when you'd like to be financially secure -- as there are for the adult child in charge of their care."

The Upside of Caregiving for an Aging Parent

While the responsibilities of caring for an aging parent might overshadow the benefits at times, it's important to remember the rewards of the situation as well.

"There are definitely benefits of a positive caregiving relationship for an elderly parent and an adult child," says Hollis-Sawyer. "The bonding experience can create an intimacy that may not have been encountered when the adult child was going through their own mid-adult phase. Maybe hopefully, they are becoming closer to the parent."

Many people, she says, find that caring for an aging parent is a growth experience, which creates an opportunity for both people to learn more about themselves.

For the parent, having a child around to spend time with, and provide care, may make a difference in quality of life.

"When kids provide help for the parent, it has a significant effect on the parent," says Stern. "They have a stronger emotional connection to their child than they would to a stranger who is an aide or a nurse in a living facility. While it may not necessarily make them healthier, I believe it does make them happier."

Reviewed on November 25, 2008

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