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How Does Caring for Aging Parents Affect Family Life?

Whether you and your parents live together or thousands of miles apart, you might find yourself increasingly responsible for their day-to-day care. Caring for aging parents has multiple impacts on your family life, including emotional, physical, financial and structural effects. As you and your family make plans and you reflect on your future as a caregiver, take time to appreciate the strength you derive from working together and the unique bonds you share as family.

Emotional Effects

Caring for your aging parents prompts a range of impulses and emotions. Katie Thomas and Mishelle Segur, co-owners and directors of Hearts and Hands Counseling, say that common responses include "Guilt for not being able to do more for parents; anger for having to set aside your own needs or shift your priorities; and fear and anxiety, including anticipatory grief and fear of financial strain." Caring for children and aging parents at the same time can make you feel as if you do not have the emotional strength and resources for everyone.

Thomas and Segur also identify positive emotional effects of caring for aging parents, such as "enrichment that comes with relationships between grandparents and grandchildren; increased opportunity to pass on stories and knowledge to younger generations; and [the] younger generations having a sense of being able to give back to parents and grandparents," resulting in a "greater connection" between family members.

Financial Effects

Caring for aging parents often means extra costs related to home health care, medical expenses not covered by insurance and extra insurance premiums for services such as long-term care. You also may need to take off extra time from work. Healthcare Finance News reports the results of The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, stating that individuals who care for elderly parents will lose an average of $280,00 to $325,000 in wages, retirement benefits and Social Security benefits.

MORE: When I Had to Parent My Parents

Thomas and Segur say that some families explore options for financial support that can make family life more enjoyable, emphasizing that "there is no shame in utilizing what support is out there." Healthcare Finance News echoes this sentiment, adding that there are many employer resources and programs to ease financial stress and improve productivity in the workplace in such situations.

Structural Effects

When you live with your aging parents or assume a high amount of daily care for them, you experience a change in your family roles. Thomas and Segur describe this as a "shift in family structure and hierarchy related to [the] matriarch or patriarch no longer being in their role." When this occurs, "someone new [has] to take their place."

This shift can cause guilt and stress, as family members work to find a place in the new family dynamic, but it can also result in more open communication among family members. In her article "Caregiving From a Distance," Carol Heffernan describes how some families positively communicate their needs and responsibilities when managing caregiving. The caregivers speak with aging parents about where they believe they need support. Grandparents, parents and children get creative, brainstorming about how to utilize community resources such as church groups, social service organizations and community groups. In these cases, the family structure shifts to being less hierarchical and more cooperative.

Physical Effects

Prioritizing parents' care can ease their pain and worry, but might impact your health. The Family Caregiver site summarizes some of the physical effects of caregiving for aging parents. The time and effort of keeping up with parents' care means you may visit your doctors less, resulting in undiagnosed problems or conditions getting worse. Caregiving for a parent with dementia can cause chronic stress and illness. Time pressure might result in caregivers and their children skipping exercise and eating more convenience foods, which contribute to poor fitness and weight gain. Everything from mild depression to severe and chronic depression can inflict caregivers, which can cause premature aging and shorten their life span. Families who share responsibilities and secure outside help experience less stress and have the time and resources to maintain their health and relationships with all members of the family.

MORE: When a Parent Says "No!"

Positive Effects

In her article "Caring for Elderly Parents: How to Feel Positive," Dr. Amy D’Aprix, life transition consultant, observes that our thoughts frame our emotional state. When you care for aging parents, you might feel as if you are in a rut. This in turn affects your family life, creating an environment of bitterness and resulting in more criticism and complaining. However, some families have the opposite experience by creating what she describes as a positive "wiring" in their brains to produce more potentially positive outcomes. These people reflect on what makes them feel good for caring for their aging parents. They consider what moments in their days make them smile. They revel in the moments with loved ones that increase their sense of self-worth and they end up creating closer bonds with both the older and younger generations.

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