5 Ways Caregivers Can Build a Support System
When you’re caring for your parents or in-laws, you’re often in fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mode. There’s a crisis. You react. There’s infinite scrambling to find resources (i.e. adult day care, a senior center, transportation), and meanwhile, your own life is teeming with additional responsibilities.
It’s hard to catch your breath, let alone consider your own future. You probably have an “I’ll worry about me later” mindset… Not smart!
Ways Caregivers Can Build a Support System
Thinking ahead about who will be there for you when you need care, what you want for yourself, and where you want to live, among other things, is something to begin considering now. It means positioning yourself so that when you are older, you will have as much control of your life as possible.
“The reality is that adult children do not plan for their future, long-term needs the same way their parents haven’t planned for theirs.” — Rhonda Caudell
You don’t have to take action today, but you do need a game plan. “The reality is that adult children do not plan for their future, long-term needs the same way their parents haven’t planned for theirs,” says Rhonda Caudell, a former nurse and geriatric care manager from Atlanta, who teaches an online course: “Crucial Conversations with Aging Parents Before It’s Too Late.”
Caudell believes that adult kids — you! — must break that cycle and be prepared. “You’re giving your kids a gift,” she says. Power of attorney? Check. Living will? Check. End-of-life and housing preferences? Check. But is building a strong support system on that list?
Today, one out of three baby boomers is single. They may have kids who live hours away. Or, even if they’re nearby, they are likely busy with their own lives. You need to count on you.
Want to boost or build a support system? Here’s what the experts suggest:
1. Figure out what you don’t want.
You may feel you live too far away from your daughter and grandkids, that you will become too dependent on a nearby son, or that you love you can’t live without your community or neighborhood. If you stay in your big old house, it may need ongoing repairs or, with too many stairs, be too hard to navigate later on.
2. Create the life you want for your next phase.
Think about where you want to be, not only geographically but personally in the next 10 years. If you’re considering a move, figure out if you can afford it and what you will need to do to sell your home or condo in the future. Perhaps you can begin to do the work. Also, decide if you’ll have what you need when you need it (alternative transportation, doctors, movie theaters, restaurants nearby). You might be the type who prefers to surround herself with people or not. Perhaps you want to live quietly.
3. Look around.
If there are enough people in your building or neighborhood who are at a similar age and stage, you might want to get to know one another and/or share services (caregiving, food bought in bulk, housekeeping).
4. Assess your friend situation.
If you want more caring, interesting, sports-minded (fill in the blank) people in your life, you will have to make an effort. Get involved in community activities and join committees or a walking group. Become a mentor or volunteer. Find a book club. Learn bridge. Meetups are a good way to connect with people who have common interests.
There are organizations like The Transition Network (TTN) with chapters around the country for professional women age 50+ “whose changing life situations lead them to seek new connections, resources and opportunities.” Some of its chapters offer the Caring Collaborative, an initiative made up of TTN members who are “there for each other” when help or company is needed.
Barbara Stahura is active in the Collaborative’s New York City chapter. “When you meet women in a social setting, it’s easier to pick up the phone and ask for help. “If you know people in advance you have those personal connections.” A health care consultant who left her full-time job, Stahura, 62 [63 in August] has no children, no siblings who are alive and a husband with a chronic illness. While she’s healthy now, she knows an accident or something else could trip her up anytime. “I now have friends I’ve met through Caring Collaborative I can count on who’ve said, ‘don’t worry, let me know if you need help.’ It’s very reassuring,” says Stahura.
5. Know your housing options.
There are several ways to ensure you will not be isolated, lonely and alone. One friend in her sixties plans to sell her condo and buy a house with her sister. It’ll be company, she’s decided, and by splitting expenses, they can live someplace they wouldn’t have been able to afford alone. It goes without saying that they will take care of each other as they grow older.
Some older adults are opting for cohousing. You have your own place but share some meals and communal space. There’s daily interaction with neighbors who become like extended family.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs or Life Plan Communities) — many with assisted living and skilled nursing — can be appealing, too. Not only are your medical needs taken care of, should you have them, but there are activities, stimulation and caring residents and staff. University-based retirement communities (UBRC) that are on or near college campuses and focus on lifelong learning are one type. There are more than 100 around the country.
The Village movement is also popular. You stay in your home and, for an annual fee, join a neighborhood “Village.” Members get discounted vetted service referrals (i.e. think home repairs, dog walking, a babysitter for your grandchild, transportation), and social opportunities, from museum trips, yoga classes or a group meal out.
Are you happy with your support system? What would you like to change about it or have changed? We want to know, in the comments below!
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