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Those caring for parents more likely to have health issues

Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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Traci Eggleston has simple, but critical, advice for adults serving as caregivers for their aging parents.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Eggleston, executive director of Elderday Center in Batavia. “That job is big, and you don’t have to do it alone. We don’t want you to.”

Last year, she said, the nonprofit agency provided nearly 1,200 hours of free counseling to 340 Kane County residents who are caregivers, mostly members of the baby boomer generation.

Feelings of guilt, stress, depression and anxiety are common among caregivers, she said, noting that can lead to problems elsewhere in their lives, such as marriages.

Caring for their parents is part of the triple whammy some baby boomers – Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – are finding themselves in. Some also are still supporting their children, and their personal health is demanding more of their time as they age.

“You have a population that themselves have some health care issues or a serious illness,” said Nancy Nelson, senior manager of advocacy and community outreach for AARP Illinois. “But at the same time they’re dealing with their parents or in-laws who have health care issues that might be more severe.”

Nearly 10 million American adults older than 50 were caring for their parents in 2008, according to a 2011 study sponsored by MetLife. Being the main caregiver in a family has multiple effects on adults, the study found.

“Adult children 50-plus who work and provide care to a parent are more likely to have fair or poor health than those who do not provide care to their parents,” according to the study.

Nelson estimated that two-thirds of U.S. families are involved in some kind of caregiving. However, the time spent caregiving could serve as useful preparation for individuals who are getting older, she said.

“That’s an interesting twist with the boomers,” Nelson said. “They’ll probably be more able to address their health issues and retirement issues … because they’ve dealt with their parents.”

For Elburn resident Kay Swift, it was her now-deceased husband who needed care. Henry Swift was 55 and had almost recovered from a quintuple heart bypass when he suffered a massive stroke, she said.

“Talk about panic mode,” the 66-year-old said. “You totally feel overwhelmed.”

The state would have paid her to stay home and take care of her husband, but Swift said it wasn’t enough to live on, and she had to work in order to have health benefits. Thankfully, Swift said, she had a job that let her be flexible with her hours.

“It was good that I had my son,” Swift said. “When you have someone in the home with you it helps.”

Eventually, she said, her husband spent time at Elderday, where he had friends and could be more active.

In 1999 – about 18 months after her husband died – Swift said she joined Elderday’s board, which she is still involved with.

“It truly was a lifesaver to me,” Swift said.

Getting ready

Those who work with the elderly population encourage people to plan for future health issues so that they can be ready when they need services, such as assisted living.

Linda Strohschein, owner of Strohschein Law Group in St. Charles, encouraged baby boomers to have powers of attorney for health care and property.

“I think everyone needs one,” she said, noting those with powers of attorney can avoid a legal process. “If you haven’t gotten it by 50, run, not walk.”

Powers of attorney should be someone you trust, she said. She recommends people review the documents every three to five years so they can be updated to reflect any changes in the law.

Staff at Autumn Leaves Alzheimer’s and Memory Care in St. Charles recommend adults in their 50s begin to look at long-term health care insurance options.

“Nobody plans for this,” said Jason O’Higgins, regional director of sales and marketing for Autumn Leaves. “Nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them.”

But according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.2 million Americans have the disease. By 2025, the association reports, an estimated 7.1 million people 65 and older are expected to have Alzheimer’s, which represents a 40 percent increase from those seniors currently affected.

Autumn Leaves – which opened its St. Charles location late last year – is readying for the demand. It operates locations in five Chicago-area communities, expects to open another this summer, is breaking ground on its seventh site, and it has plans for three to four more after that, said Brian Nebel, executive director of the St. Charles location.

“We’re prepared,” O’Higgins said.

Ailment outlook

Baby boomers are expected to have their share of health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of Americans ages 55 to 64 have high blood pressure, and another 40 percent have some form of cardiovascular disease.

Further, the American Hospital Association reports that six in 10 baby boomers will be dealing with more than one chronic condition by 2030, when the oldest of the generation is 84 and the youngest is 66.

In that time, one in four baby boomers will have diabetes, half will have some kind of arthritis, and more than one-third will be considered obese. Nelson said obesity will be a major health obstacle for boomers.

“They always think they’ll exercise more after they retire, but they really don’t,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the health problems that keep them from exercising.”

As the adult activity supervisor for the St. Charles Park District, Meghan Papke wants to bring in more baby boomers, she said.

“Everyone deserves leisure and recreation,” she said.

In addition to offering programs at the adult activity center and scheduling trips, the park district provides those 50 and older with exercise opportunities. A new “50+” walking club has attracted about six regulars, Papke said, noting some might feel safer walking with a group than walking alone.

This fall, she said, the park district plans to offer a “50+” session of its popular all-ages tai chi class. The new class will focus on more linear movements – positions that are better suited for older adults, she said.

As an usher at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, boomer Michael LaRocca not only exercises during work – he might walk the stairs 16 times a day during a game – but he also bikes from home for day games. The trip is five to six miles one way, he said.

“It’s good to be active,” he said.

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