There is a natural “merge” on the horizon … the increasing number of people in the demographic known as “Baby Boomers” and the growing group of elderly seniors who need caregivers. It’s inevitable that the twain shall meet.
These groups will generally fall into one of two camps: 1) the Boomers who are caring for an aging family member; and 2) the Boomers who are seeking a second career or a post-retirement employment opportunity. Either way, there is plenty of caregiving to go around, and Boomers are meeting the need in ever-growing numbers.
What should Boomers know?
On the surface, becoming a caregiver to an elderly seniors sounds great. How hard can it be? Drive the senior to a few appointments, buy groceries and help them with housekeeping and yard work. A few extra bucks may even be earned to supplement retirement pensions.
In reality, there is often a lot more to caregiving for elderly seniors than running a few errands. Aging adults can be moody and fickle … even downright demanding. What starts as helping to change a light bulb or repairing a leaky faucet and buying a few groceries one day a week can develop into a full-time job, catering to daily whims and “needs.” And often, the caregivers discover that the elderly adult genuinely needs much more assistance than was first anticipated.
Pay may be possible, particularly if you establish an agreement initially or initiate your services in the form of a business venture. But for those who are caring for an elderly family member, pay is often either not possible, or the caregivers can’t bring themselves to ask a relative to pay for their assistance.
Additionally, many elderly adults need much more than a ride to the doctor’s office or hairdresser. While Home Health care can be engaged to attend to medical and personal needs – bathing, monitoring blood pressure and general health, and light housekeeping – these agencies cannot assist with business and financial matters. So often, an elderly adult needs someone to help pay bills, balance the checkbook, fill out insurance forms, negotiate for Medicare Part D Prescription coverage, serve as a liaison with physicians, and more. And these responsibilities can take a lot of time.
How should Boomers proceed?
If a Boomer is thrown into the role of caregiver of a friend or loved one due to a series of unfortunate events, it may very well be a “learn-as-you-go” situation. But for both the “volunteer” caregiver and those who view this as a small business venture … and enter into it as such … there are some things to consider:
* Set a schedule and some ground rules. Decide what tasks you will and will not perform. If you hire a housekeeper for your own home, you may not want to clean someone else’s home. If you have yet to retire from your career, you may have limited hours/days to be available for seeing after the needs of your elderly adult. You may have to set aside a specific day or part of a day for running errands, going to appointments, and more … and you will have to ask your elderly adult to schedule things within these confines.
* Consolidate tasks when you can. Is it possible to shop for groceries while your senior is at the hairdresser’s? Can you dispense daily medications into individual compartments for a week or two at a time? Utilize online banking and bill-pay as much as possible. Keep a file on your senior that includes pertinent information and numbers, such as Medicare and Medicaid, Insurance, a list of all medications taken (and the dosages), allergies, and more. Have this information handy for reference or in case of emergency. Assist your senior in obtaining a “life alert” personal security system for times when he/she is alone, as well as a Living Will.
* If you plan to charge for your services, establish fees upfront, and make the senior adults aware of these charges. By establishing a fee structure, you will be doing both parties a favor. If the senior wants additional services, you will be able to refer to the structure and show the fees involved, so that he/she can decide whether or not this is an affordable option. It will also keep you from doing more and more for the senior for the same level of compensation. You’ll have a fee structure – and maybe even a signed contract – to which you can refer.
Caring for senior adults can be rewarding … and not in a financial sense. After all, it represents a way to give back to those who may have already contributed greatly to the lives of others. At the same time, caring for senior adults can be hard work, time consuming, and emotionally draining. Be sure to leave some time for relaxing and getting away to de-stress. Engage a “back-up” helper to fill in for you in an emergency, or simply when you need a break.
Boomers may see caregiving for the elderly as a good way to stay active, make a few bucks … or start a new career. All of this – and more – is possible … now more than ever. As long as the Boomers do their homework and enter this arena with eyes wide open, a new role as a caregiver for senior adults might be a very good fit.