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Friday, July 16, 2010

KALÖN WOMEN: Elder Care is Coming

Guest Columnist: Barbara E. Freisner

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who need caregivers.”
- Rosalynn Carter

If you’re a Baby Boomer – I’ll bet you know exactly what she’s talking about!

Did you also know that the average time most Baby Boomers are involved in their parent’s care is 15 years? (My own personal eldercare journey started more than 25 years ago – for many years as the caregiver for my grandmother and then for the last 17 years for my mother who, by the time she died a year ago, had severe advanced dementia.) That’s like raising a child from birth until they go to college. That’s a long time – especially because, unlike children who get more independent, the elderly get more dependent. And unlike childcare, eldercare is unpredictable, intermittent, and crisis driven. For the family, that usually means that caring for an aging loved one is going to get more time consuming, stressful, and overwhelming.

Helping aging loved ones at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives is one of the most loving things we can do. (Talk about ‘beauty . . . more than skin deep’!) For many family members, it will be a joy and a privilege. That’s how I felt about caring for my grandmother. We were extremely close and I wouldn’t let anyone help. And many aging loved ones will willingly and lovingly accept help – as my grandmother did with me.

For many other Baby Boomers, however, elder caregiving will be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting. That’s how it was with my mother. I loved her, of course, but we weren’t that close and getting her to cooperate was often a major struggle. In a case like that, taking care of an aging parent can be draining, stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming and even filled with guilt, resentment, or anger.

Add to that, all the “mommy and daddy” stuff. You know . . . the whole “mom loved you more than she loved me” thing which can bring out the best and the worst in families. In fact . . . for some families, the sibling issues can be more difficult than the eldercare ones!

All of this is also on top of our spouses, kids and our jobs. It is estimated that 65% of the workforce cares for chronically ill or aging loved ones – a responsibility that often conflicts with work. In fact, eldercare has replaced child care as the #1 cause of absenteeism and on-the-job distractions – or “presenteeism”.

Then add to that, trying to get answers to questions you’re not even sure how to ask. When I started 25 years ago, the internet hadn’t even been invented. (I don’t think the word ‘eldercare’ had been either!) Now when you Google “elder care,” over 5.5 million entries come up. Talk about information overload!

As a result of all this, many family members will just drop difficult eldercare issues and hope that it all will magically resolve itself – or until it becomes a crisis.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way!

That’s why I’m so excited to be doing this column – because eldercare givers have enough to worry about. I know because I’ve been there myself. That’s also why I started my company, AgeWiseLiving, which is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this year. For 10 years as a Generational Coach I have been providing information and services that have helped hundreds of families know what to do to help their aging loved ones and, perhaps more importantly, coaching them to successfully communicate with their aging loved ones so their elderly loved ones will be willing do what’s in their best interest. And because I work with the family members (never the elderly), I help siblings work together to attack the issues – not each other.

Each month I will be focusing on topics and issues that will help you understand who your aging loved one is, why they do what they do, how to deal with specific eldercare and sibling issues, etc. It is my mission to provide the practical information that will help you improve your relationship with your parents and your siblings as you do this most loving thing.

BARBARA E. FRIESNER, whose company, AgeWiseLiving, ( is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, is the creator of The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success System, a Generational Coach, and an expert on issues affecting the elderly and their families. In addition to her own highly regarded newsletter, she writes a monthly column for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women and Caregiving in America. Barbara’s articles have been published in national magazines and has been quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country and she had her own radio talk show on Barbara is a keynote speaker and seminar leader – most recently for the Employee Assistance Professionals Association World Conference. Barbara is an adjunct professor at Cornell University, where she created and taught “Seniors Housing Management”. She received her Master of Business Administration from Boston University. Prior to starting AgeWiseLiving, Barbara was the Director of Education and Development for Loews Corporation and Dean of Loews University.

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