By Winnie Yu
From a thousand miles away Cindy Dockrell, 53, is slowly becoming her mother Joanne's caregiver. Foot surgery and pain in Joanne's hips made it nearly impossible for the 78-year-old to climb the stairs of her split-level house. So Cindy was pleased when her mother decided to move from Macon, Georgia, to Newton, Massachusetts, close enough for Cindy to take care of her -- a big role reversal for both of them.
"She'll depend heavily on me," says the mom of two and part-time writer. "It's a sobering thought."
No one sets out to be a caregiver, but a 2004 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP reveals that more than 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to another adult, and almost 80 percent of those being cared for are over age 50. The typical caregiver in the United States is a woman, about 46 years old, who spends an average of 20 hours or more each week caring for her mother. Most caregivers also work at least part time, and more than a third have children living at home.
"What makes caregiving incredibly challenging is that it's so hard to take a break," says Linda Rhodes, EdD, author of Caregiving As Your Parents Age (New American Library). "You're juggling other family and work demands. Finding services is often confusing. And given how fast an older person's health status can change, it's no wonder caregivers suffer from high stress and put their own health at risk."
Whether you care for an aging parent at home or provide care from a distance, here are common pitfalls to avoid and key steps to giving everyone, including yourself, the best care possible.