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Role Reversal

It’s not something we like to think about, but the fact is more and more of us will eventually be caring for our aging parents. A study by MetLife found that nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 are caregivers for their parents. Those numbers are growing as America’s population grows older.

It’s difficult to watch the effects of time on our parents. Age robs them of their physical strength, mental capacity and, sometimes, emotional stability. They may not seem like the same person who was there for us through most of our lives. And now that the roles are reversed, family caregivers — at a time in their lives when they should be looking forward to their own retirement — can quickly feel overwhelmed, exhausted, depressed, resentful and angry. The MetLife study also found that adult children 50 and older 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.

For those reasons, experts say it’s important for family caregivers to have a solid support system in place. All this month, our team at ABC Action News is partnering with experts to tackle the issues involved with parenting your parents. How and when you should have the conversation with your parents about moving in with family or into assisted living? Why and when is it best to create a power-of-attorney, a living will and other legal documents? How and when to address the issue of your parent’s finances and bills? Our experts will focus on your every day concerns, too, like driving, cooking and household chores. What are your options to keep them safe and be respectful of their emotional need for independence? It’s an idea born from emails and letters from viewers, and to be perfectly frank, plenty of conversations in our employee break room.

In working on this project, we found three universal truths. First, it’s essential to be aware of our parents’ current health. The reality can be very different than the one they present to us. Second, know what help options are available – whether it’s housing, health, finances or lifestyle changes. And third, it’s best to make these parenting decisions before there is a crisis.

The Tampa Bay area Y is an example of the options available. It offers a variety of classes and support groups to help families cope with aging loved ones. “It’s so important for the caregiver to maintain their own physical and mental health,” says Maureen Chiodini, assistant vice president of wellness at the Tampa Y. “The Y offers many classes and programs to help both the caregiver and their loved one.”

The Y’s Silver Sneakers programs include exercise classes to increase muscular strength and range of movement and daily living skills. Handheld weights, elastic tubing with handles and a ball are offered for resistance. A chair is used for seated and/or standing support. The Y also has programs specific to participants with arthritis, MS, joint issues, fibromyalgia and special movement needs. Participants use the Y’s pools for shallow-water flexibility enhancement, addressing cardiovascular, strength and endurance conditioning.

Your parents don’t even know how to swim! The Y also has Tai Chi, yoga, Zumba and line dancing!

“Silver Sneakers offers something for everyone. It is a fun, energizing program that helps older adults take greater control of their health by encouraging physical activity and offering social events. It helps unlock the door to greater independence and a healthier life,” adds Chiodini.

Allowing your loved one to participate in organized classes and group activities gives you — the caregiver — a much-needed break. “Caregiver sanity is something we take very seriously,” says Chiodini, pointing to their support groups and offerings to help you parent your parents.

Dan Shaffer is the morning and noon news anchor for ABC Action News.


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