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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / August 2021 / The Emotional Toll of Caring For an Aging Parent

The Emotional Toll of Caring For an Aging Parent

By: Judy Shafer and Ann Cornell, Psy.D.

I am the adult child of an aging parent. That statement has really hit home over the past year as I watched my mother struggle to take care of herself during months of isolations brought on by the pandemic. My mother is 83 years old. She is an extremely strong-willed woman, which has served her well in her lifetime. My mother's independence is important to her, and she holds on to it with a steel fist. Her strong will and independence, although admirable, have also been a source of stress for me and my sister as we have had to provide more help to her in the last few years. Most recently, my sister and I have had the responsibility of helping our mother move out of her home and into a senior living apartment. We have tried to help her navigate difficult, uncomfortable decisions, while continuing to reassure her that we have her best interests at heart. We’ve been mindful of the ways in which our roles have changed as we all navigate this phase in our family’s life cycle and we’ve tried our best to recognize one another’s strengths and our honor our family’s values.

During this period in my life, I have learned that my sister and I are not alone. In 2020, the National Alliance for Caregiving published the results of their 2019 study of more than 1,700 caregivers. They reported the following:

  • 19% of Americans providing unpaid care to an adult with health or functional needs
  • 26% have difficulty coordinating care and this percentage and increased 7% in the past five years
  • 61% of caregivers are female 39% are male; most caregivers are over 49 years of age
  • 61% have full-time or part-time jobs to juggle on top of caregiving responsibilities
  • 23% say that caregiving has made their own health worse and this includes physical and mental health

Through this journey, my sister and I have learned to depend on each other more and more and have become each other's support. We have found humor in the small moments, and have been able to cry on each other's shoulder. We have discovered that there are great services in Rochester to support the elderly, such as Lifespan.

It is so important that the caregiver of any family member -- whether it is an elderly parent, a spouse with a chronic health problem, a child with a disability, or any other family member with a health issue -- take care of herself or himself. Recognize and acknowledge that this is stressful and don't be ashamed to seek out help if things get too overwhelming. Support groups or individual therapy can help you find positive and healthy ways of dealing with the stress and burden of caregiving. Through Well-U, the employee wellness team at the University of Rochester, Behavioral Health Partners (BHP) has therapists and medication providers who can provide mental health care to eligible individuals. The UR Medicine Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can also provide short-term counseling and referrals for employees and their immediate family members.

For more information on caregivers and on how these statistics may differ for certain groups of individuals, please refer to the National Alliance for Caregiving 2020 report.

Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.

Keith Stein | 8/1/2021

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