If you are a caregiver for an aging adult, the chances are high that you are caring for an individual with one or more chronic illnesses. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes cause nearly two-thirds of all deaths each year. People with multiple chronic conditions are more likely to report difficulty functioning day-to-day, and have a higher risk of being hospitalized and dying prematurely.

The impact on family members cannot be understated. Whatever the specific diagnosis, chronic disease not only affects the individual, but takes an emotional, financial, social, and sometimes a physical toll on caregivers, causing a ripple effect throughout the family. Ideally, the older adult’s doctor will educate family members on what to expect, but this doesn’t always happen. It can be helpful for family members to write down their specific questions in advance of the individual’s medical appointments. Fully understanding the situation is an important first step in coping.

A study by the International Journal of General Medicine shows that the emotional impact felt by family members is profound, touching many areas of their lives including their jobs and health. Many felt they had to hide their feelings from the patient in order to provide support. Social life, personal relationships, and finances are often affected as well, and over time can lead to anxiety, depression, and caregiver burnout. Stress management is critical for the family members “on the front lines.” Accepting help from others, taking breaks from caregiving demands, and paying attention to one’s own mental and physical health are essential.

Even though millions of Americans will find themselves at some point caring for an aging parent, meeting this challenge and finding help isn’t easy. Geriatric care managers, physicians, and other healthcare professionals can provide guidance and steer family caregivers to the resources in their community. Resources and support for family members may include in-person or virtual support groups, mental health care such as individual or family counseling, and faith-based groups or other social networks that lessen isolation.

As an objective third party, care managers can help families facing chronic illness. If we can help, please contact Brittany Fortmayer, by phone at 228-467-5900, or via e-mail at info@www.givingtreeseniorcareoptions.com.

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