Marsha using a calculator to manage her parents finances.

The caregiving creep

It began with providing her parents a little help managing their finances.

It progressed to help around the house, tracking medications and questioning whether Mom and Dad should be traveling south for the winters.  

Then came more frequent doctor’s visits and the difficult conversation about moving to a care facility.

That ushered in an entirely new era of responsibilities. Midnight calls about falls and decoding care facility bills—all against the backdrop of helping her parents navigate an unwanted major life transition.

It’s a familiar tale

This is Marsha’s story. But many people could recognize it as their own. The path for caregivers often starts as a single request and creeps into an all-consuming role.

Marsha is a wife, stepmom and dog mom. A Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employee and eldest daughter of five kids. Perhaps that’s why the role of “helping Mom and Dad” defaulted primarily to her.

Marsha’s caregiving role swelled from consuming a couple hours per week to a couple hours (or more) per day. After her father passed away, the physical responsibilities shrank, but emotional support for her lonely, grieving mother intensified.

Isolation is a common theme

Mom wasn’t the only lonely soul. The decade-long caregiving scenario left Marsha isolated, too. The added demands were stressful on her marriage. And somewhere along the line she began neglecting hobbies and girlfriends—and her health.

Marsha is not alone on that front. The seemingly endless demands take a physical and emotional toll on caregivers. “In this role, you basically triage care,” Marsha notes. “You identify the one who needs the most urgent help and address that.”

Rarely does that include the caregiver’s needs.

Caregivers are 26 times more likely than the general population to have serious health conditions, including anything from increased anxiety and depression to more chronic illness like heart disease and diabetes.

Such was the case for Marsha. “Everything felt out of control and I quit taking care of myself,” she says. It was a spiral. “My diabetes went unchecked, and I began stress eating. Then the weight poured on which intensified my diabetes.” She’s working on that.

Lights in the dark

With Marsha, as is the case with many caregivers, there are glimmers of light shining into the oppression of the role.

“Because I spent so much time with Mom and Dad, I heard many of their life stories for the first time.  They shared how they met—their love story and their blizzard-ravaged wedding,” she recalls. “Dad was in the military and proudly shared his memories.”

In fact, through the VFW, his brothers in arms supported Marsha’s dad and occasionally provided respite for Marsha’s mom.

Marsha’s advice to caregivers: “You don’t have to do it alone. It’s tricky to navigate caring for your aging parents but there’s agencies that can help you maneuver it.”

Her advice to everyone else: “Get your family’s affairs in order. Complete your health care directive, will, etc. Get siblings on board and be clear in expectations. And when you realize another human being is in a caregiver role, jump in and help.”

Learn more about health risks associated with caregiving, and resources to help building your own toolkit.