Did you know that the average age of a family caregiver to a sick or elderly loved one over age 65 is 63 years old? This group of Boomer-generation caregivers is also predominantly female (more than 70%) and finding themselves with fewer familial resources and opportunities to refuel physically and mentally.
“This is a relatively new phenomenon,” says Dr. Elaine Healy, Medical Director, United Hebrew of New Rochelle. “Where larger family networks were more common a generation ago, nowadays, extended families are not as big and the burden of caring for an elderly family member is often shouldered alone by a female who is herself aging.”
The “Double-Decker” Sandwich Generation
The Sandwich Generation has come to define middle-aged adults, often in their 40s and 50s, who are caring for both elderly parents and their own children, but according to Dr. Healy, there may be a need to add another classification to this group.
“What I am seeing in my practice and among friends is a growing number of women in their 60s who are taking care of their grandchildren and parents at the same time —either directly or remotely providing physical care or care supervision,” notes Dr. Healy. “This is probably the first generation that’s had this degree of responsibility without the larger family network of generations past. So, I consistently remind caregivers to take care of themselves physically and mentally.”
Maintaining a Healthy Body & Mind
Self-care is critical to maintaining one’s physical and mental stamina when responsibilities seem overwhelming, according to Dr. Healy. And caregivers are certainly feeling the stress. According to the “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020″ report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), 36% of caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful. And high stress means lowered immunity and increased sickness.
Dr. Healy recommends the following tips for family caregivers to gain some relief and improve their physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Pat yourself on the back. Acknowledge that what you are doing is heroic. Give yourself credit.
- See your doctor. Get a checkup and let your doctor know what’s going on with you as a caregiver. Have your doctor run a routine battery of blood tests, including vitamin D levels. Many of us are deficient in vitamin D and that can impact your immune system.
- Recognize your limitations. Caregiving can be strenuous work, particularly if you are lifting, moving, or bathing a family member. At 60, you’re not as physically strong or resilient as you were in your 40s, but you can regain or improve your strength even if you can’t go to the gym. Take three 10-minute anti-gravity breaks a day by practicing yoga or using some handheld weights. YouTube has a limitless variety of short workouts that you can do from home and they’re free!
- Nourish yourself. If you are the primary caregiver to a family member, be sure you are both eating well. Limit processed foods that are high in sodium and sugar and introduce more whole foods and leafy greens into your diet.
- Take time off. Sleep deprivation is the number one reason why family caregivers make the difficult decision to transition a loved one to a nursing facility. If you are feeling exhausted or if you have no time to yourself to go to lunch with friends or see a movie, you can find help through adult daycare or respite programs, which provide care and activities to seniors. If you need to get away for a weekend, there are nursing facilities that provide respite care for up to a week.
- Keep your spirituality intact. When you feel alone or depressed, it’s important to have a connection to something bigger than oneself. Oftentimes, it can be the calming force in the storm of life. For some, spirituality is based in religion. For others, it’s taking time for quiet reflection. You may find peace, personal joy and fulfillment from music, art, literature or just meditating in nature. Find that practice or activity that brings you peace and hope.
If you or someone you know is a caregiver in their seventies, check out this post for “Seven Ways to Stay Healthy in Your 70s and Beyond!”.