Coping with aging parents
By Scott R. Mote, Esq.
At the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, we help lawyers cope with life’s challenges. Whether you need help with a mental health issue, a substance abuse disorder, burnout, or stress, we can help. A common issue that I see at OLAP is lawyers who are burned out, not from practicing law, but from being the caretaker of an adult parent.
It is estimated that 65.7 million Americans, or nearly 30 percent of the general population, provide care for an older adult, or someone living with illness or disability.1 Whether your parent lives at home or in an assisted living facility, being the caretaker and decision-maker for your parent’s needs is a challenging and stressful situation, especially for a lawyer who has clients to care for as well. Paying your parent’s bills, helping them bathe, cleaning their house, buying groceries, making their medical decisions, visiting them in their assisted living home—these activities all add up to a significant amount of time.
A survey from JAMA Intern Med determined that caregivers spend anywhere from 8.3 hours to 28.1 hours per week helping their parents.2 This is a tremendous amount of time for a lawyer who works full-time, has a family to raise and a household to run. The same study found that caregivers who provide substantial help with their parent’s care are 1.8 times more likely to experience emotional difficulty. How do you manage your home life, your work life and your parent’s life without getting depressed and burned out?
Take care of yourself first
You know the drill. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Being a caregiver is a stressful job that can take an emotional, physical and financial toll on you. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise.
Make sure you set realistic boundaries. Determine exactly what you will provide for your parent, and stick to it. For example, if your parent still lives at home, choose set days and times of when you will visit, pick a time where you will not accept phone calls. If your parent lives in an assisted living facility, make a visitation schedule so that the parent does not expect daily visits. It is very difficult to say no to your aging parent, but you must get in the habit of not doing everything he or she asks you to do. If so, you will get burned out and be at risk of depression or illness.
Ask for help
Whether it be from a sibling, a spouse, significant other, or you need to hire an elder law attorney, ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. There is only so much you can handle in one day. If you have a sibling, make a schedule where you take turns providing care. If you don’t have any other family members, check with friends or members in your community who might be able to help.
Do not be afraid to tell your employer, colleagues, courts, opposing counsel, etc., that you are dealing with an aging parent if you need space/time. Just about all of us have to do this at some time.
Determine if public benefits are available
Do your research on public benefits. There are many programs available, but you have to find them.
Eldercare Locator is a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that connects you to services for older adults and their families.3
The National Council on Aging website locates benefit programs in your area.4
The Ohio Department on Aging provides information on local/county aging offices, too.5
Don’t forget to check with Medicare and Medicaid.
Consider professional help
Aging Life Care or geriatric care management, is an association that works with families to help them plan for their parents’ futures, including assessment, monitoring, education and coaching. They provide an Aging Life Care Professional, also known as a geriatric care manager, a health and human services specialist who acts as a guide and advocate for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. The Aging Life Care Professional is educated and experienced in any of several fields related to aging life care/care management, including, but not limited to nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology, with a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care.6
If your aging parent is still living at home, you might need to hire a professional caregiver who can provide help while you are at work. AARP, Care.com, and Caregiver.org are just a few resources that help you find quality caregivers.
Contact the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program
I have heard from many lawyers who are struggling with the intricacies of caring for their elderly parents. Setting up schedules, doctor appointments, household chores, etc., definitely takes a toll on you, sometimes in ways that no one else can understand. As lawyers, we often take on more than we can handle and many of us are perfectionists, so we are disappointed when our plans do not go as we like. This can lead to a tremendous amount of stress, which can lead to depression, mental health issues, substance abuse, etc. OLAP can help you cope when you feel like you just cannot do it, when you are overwhelmed, when you get depressed. Please call us and let us help.
Yes, all of these suggestions are easier said than done, but they are possible. You might get to the point where you shut down or get burned out. Ask for help. Whether it be through OLAP or a professional therapist, make sure you take the necessary steps to keep your health in check.
By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.
2 “A National Profile of Family and Unpaid Caregivers Who Assist Older Adults With Health Care Activities” by Jennifer L. Wolff, PhD; Brenda C. Spillman, PhD; Vicki A. Freedman, PhD; et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(3):372-379. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.7664