How to Get Respite When You’re Overworked with Aging Parents

Do you feel exhausted handling things for your aging parents? Are you jumpy when the phone rings, anticipating the next crisis?

You’re likely part of the “sandwich generation”, adults caring for an elder parent who have a child at home or are financially supporting a grown child. Approximately 50% of people in their 40s and 50s make up the sandwich generation and a good chunk of them are also providing financial support on both sides. Even if your children are completely independent, the tasks of helping an aging parent quickly becoming overwhelming. For a lot of caregivers, this comes at a peak time in their careers as well.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore the Problem: The Respite Necessity

Of course you want to do what you can for your aging parents. However, we see time and time again how well-meaning children are doing worse by their aging parents by trying to do it all. They become exhausted and sometimes short-tempered. A caregiver trying to do everything for everyone usually ends up slipping in many areas. Your marriage, career and even the relationship with the parent you’re trying to help may suffer.

We’re not saying this to make anyone feel guiltier. Our hope is to help caregivers understand there are ways to get your parents the best care while taking care of yourself too. We’ll answer some common questions you might be considering. And, we’ll offer solutions and resources. Hopefully, you’ll find something that will provide you a bit of respite in the way that works for your family.

Should I quit work?

If you’re a working caregiver, this is one possible solution. You might consider quitting, taking leave or reducing work hours. As a matter of fact, 69% of working caregivers report rearranging their work schedule, decreasing their hours, or taking an unpaid leave in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities (AARP, 2009).

It may be worth talking to your boss or HR about options. You may be able to make arrangements for flex time or work remotely for some period. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12-weeks unpaid leave/year to care for a parent or spouse. Both the employee and company must fit certain criteria (note: it is only for a parent, child or spouse, not an in-law, for example).

In addition to checking into your options with work, you might want to consult with a care manager on some of the resources available before making a decision. Taking time off work, cutting back hours and other changes might have a much bigger impact than you think. 10 million caregivers aged 50+ who care for their parents lose an estimated $3 trillion in wages, pensions, retirement funds, and benefits. Women caregivers lose an estimated $324,044 due to caregiving, and men lose $283,716 (The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers). You may just think of the unpaid leave time, but you’re likely also giving up benefits, promotions and otherwise impacting your financial situation long-term. It is something to consider when weighing the pros and cons of different plans.

Should I move my aging parent in with me?

Many families wonder if it makes sense to move their aging loved one into their homes. Once again, this is a highly personal decision. And, we have seen both wonderful and disastrous outcomes. So, we’d highly recommend a measured approach. Don’t rush into the decision. Talk it over with everyone impacted. And, consider talking it over with a professional. A care manager can assess what your aging parent might need, and explain any implications. For example, if you live in a different state...how are the benefits and support programs different? What resources exist if your parent needs more help?

What to Do: A Plan of Action to Get Some Respite

1. Have a family meeting. Develop a working agreement.

This is particularly important if you have siblings or others helping out (or to marshall support). Discuss who will do what and how you’ll check in with each other. Developing agreements and making compromises upfront can prevent hurt feelings. Consider getting someone to mediate. When we coordinate such meetings with families, we help guide the discussion with questions they might not have considered and act as a neutral moderator. This is best done proactively (and on an ongoing basis) but it can be useful any time in the process.

Check out some of our suggestions for creating a working agreement here.

2. Set and stick to boundaries.

Creating the working agreement helps develop boundaries. It provides an opportunity for everyone to give input and come to some understanding. However, the hard part comes in sticking to it. If your parent made certain promises to get help if this or that occurs, it’s up to you whether you’ll rush in to help if they don’t.

If you created the agreement with a care manager’s help, she can do periodic check-ins on progress and be available when you have concerns. Many caregivers value having a sounding board who has dealt with such challenges. For additional help setting boundaries or dealing with unresolved family conflicts, you might also consider meeting with a counselor.

3. Outsource home care tasks.

One of the easiest ways to reduce your “workload” as a caregiver is to outsource some basic tasks. Make a list of what you’re doing for your aging parent (or what needs to be done). The easiest tasks to outsource can be practical home care items. For example, hire a home caregiver to do light housekeeping, laundry, or grocery shopping. Ask your parent to bring someone in on a trial basis if they’re reluctant.

Many of the convenience services you use yourself can also be helpful. For example, EasyLiving partners with Lyft so your aging parent can use the service even if they don’t have a smartphone. Grocery delivery and meal services can save you time, and keep your parent healthy.

4. Bring in a healthcare navigator.

A professional healthcare advocate could be another way to reduce your long list of tasks. They can help organize records and make things run smoothly. And, they can attend doctor’s appointments and coordinate care. Just taking over some of the appointments could save you hours and lots of frustration. Not only does this reduce your workload, it ensures your parent gets the best possible care. You get peace of mind. Sometimes the most stressful thing about caregiver is not knowing if you’re doing the right thing. This is especially true when dealing with the medical system.

5. Consider respite care options.

When you’re exhausted from caregiving, respite care might just be the answer. Respite care simply means substitute care provided to give the primary caregiver a break. It can be used for short periods for vacations, dealing with your own health/needs, or on a regular basis such as a once a week “day off”. Respite care can be provided in your loved one’s home, at a care facility or a community center/adult day care.

For more information, watch our video or read our article "Respite Care 101".

Feeling overworked and overwhelmed?

We're here to answer all your questions and help with respite care, care management and more.