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3 Tips for Caring for an Elderly Relative

It’s well known that many Americans come to look after their parents later in life, but a new study shows just how much time and energy these tasks can require.

A Gallup survey released Thursday finds that a majority of American caregivers — those who spend at least 15 hours a week helping to look after an elderly family member or friend — are taking care of a parent and that these responsibilities are a long term commitment.

The study found 55% of people have been providing care for three years or more and 31% have been giving care for between one year and three years. Those surveyed say they spent an average 13 days a month helping with tasks such as shopping, food preparation, laundry, transportation and providing medication. They spent an average 6 days a month helping their relatives eat, dress, bath and groom.  The most common condition, mentioned by 15% of those polled, was Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

There’s no denying that these necessary tasks can be time consuming, but there are certain steps you can take to ease the burden. Here are some tips from the National Alliance for Caregiving, a non-profit group focused on the issues of family caregiving.

1. Ask questions. If you and your parent disagree on how to handle something, don’t rush into an argument. Your parent or family member may have already made plans for how to address certain situations, such as living arrangements, health care or your parent’s financial situation. Be specific about your suggestions and make sure to ask their advice before you decide something – it could save you a lot of time and hassle.

2. Organize documents. One practical strategy is to gather all important financial documents in a master binder or file. Try dividing the documents into categories such as personal, medical, financial and insurance.  Also, make a list of the medications your parent or relative is taking and order them all from the same pharmacy so that they can also maintain a complete list of medications and avoid harmful interactions or over medicating.

3. Take advantage of local services. Contact the Eldercare Locator, a service offered by the U.S. Administration on Aging, which helps people find services for the elderly in their neighborhoods, such as adult day services, rehabilitation centers and nurses. But don’t forget to also do your own research and verify the information provided to you with friends and other groups.

    Readers, do you look after an elderly relative? What tips do you have for making the process run smoothly?


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    About Encore

    • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.