Maryland Bar Center
520 West Fayette Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Direct Line: 443-703-3041
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC
Lawyers Assistance Program Counselor
Direct Line: 443-703-3042
Honorable William G. Simmons
Lawyer Assistance Committee Chair
The Big Squeeze
By: Carol P. Waldhauser
Place one has an eight year waiting list; Place two has an odor; Place three won't take Medicare; Place four demands Dad's money - all of it - up front; and Place five is perfect; but Dad thinks he won't fit in - sound familiar?
Or perhaps, you can better identify with this description: You are a baby boomer; a parent of two children with one child living at home and one child in college - and both costing a fortune; and you are at the peak of your demanding career when your aging parent is hospitalized. Unfortunately, your mother has suffered a stroke. After many sleepless nights and exhausting rounds with the medical profession, you are grateful for the good news: Mom will recover. The bad news: Mom can no longer live alone. Moreover, she is being discharged tomorrow! Suddenly, and without warning, you are thrown into yet another role: one of caregiver to an aging parent. You begin to feel the big squeeze - the pressure of family, finances, career and aging parent.
In our modern developed society, improved medical care and higher standards of living have dramatically increased life expectancy. It is estimated that 20 percent of the population is of retirement age. Many live happy independent lives. However, statistics suggest that 6 percent are in institutions while a significant number are often looked after in the community by a network of caregivers, many of whom are unpaid family members.
Recent studies support also that the care of an elderly parent in the United States overwhelmingly falls on a woman. These caregivers are generally between 40-59 years of age and a significant percentage work full-time and are married with children. Regardless of gender, however, taking on the caregiver's role and deciding how to assist a close relative who is elderly and whose mental functioning is deteriorating can cause many practical, as well as emotional, problems. Especially for those who fulfill other roles, too.
Expert suggests that when it has been ascertained that your parent can no longer manage alone, you are faced with a number of options, which you should talk through with the elderly person before making decisions. Work out the comparative advantages and disadvantages of moving your relative into a good residential home, perhaps moving him or her into a smaller accommodation near to you so that you can visit regularly, or moving your relative into your home. The latter option is likely to have a domino effect on all the relationships in your house. It may also be time to make arrangements regarding financial affairs and legal advice may be in order.
Taking on the caregiver's role also triggers a wide range of emotions. Caring for an elderly loved one can cause enormous tension and stress. As you watch your relative's condition deteriorate, you may have to cope with a wide range of feelings. This includes the inevitable role reversal in which you care for your parent in ways that he or she cared for you as a small child. In a recent study, 69% of caregivers say frustration is their most frequently felt emotion. Additionally, caregivers rate change in family dynamics, loss of leisure time and feelings isolation as the most burdensome aspect of family care giving. Virtually one-half of all caregivers say that they have suffered from prolonged depression. In addition, it is purported that more people enter nursing homes because of caregiver burnout rather than because of worsening of condition. For these reasons, it is evident that as the population grows older, the work force must contend with what has been commonly coined: the sandwich generation blues".
The MSBA'S Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) understands this concept all too well. The experienced personnel know how under normal circumstances a law office can be a pressure cooker and with the added roles, such parent and caregiver enormous stress can result. Similarly, we realize also that it is a rare that a legal profession who will confide to a peer that "the stress is getting to me". Instead, the message may be given indirectly and in disguised form such as through expressed dissatisfaction with the work requirements, declining performance and productivity, deteriorating personal lives or substance abuse.
Studies support that at any given time nearly 20 percent of American lawyers have problems that threaten their ability to continue to practice their profession. Two-thirds of those attorneys have problems that are a direct result of alcohol and/or drug abuse, and the remaining third have mental health problems that are often caused by stress that is either work-related and/or family related. Presently, LAP focuses and assists on many issues that affect work productivity and quality of life for the legal professional including, but not limited to: substance abuse, depression, grief, stress management and adulthood and aging. For additional information call the LAP office of the Maryland State Bar: (410) 685-7878.