Happy old couple Ian MacKenzie Flickr CC

Photo credit: Ian MacKenzie via Flickr CC

Sailing into the golden years alongside our loved ones is a dream for most of us. We want to see those special people live into their later years of life happy and healthy. The reality, though, is that most of us experience failing health as we age and eventually need someone to help us. We may shudder at the thought of relinquishing control of a loved one’s care to some kind of stranger.

“What if they’re too young, or unqualified?” “But they’re not family!” These are common concerns and many seniors take on the care of a loved one, particularly a spouse, because they feel it is their responsibility.

Yet other questions that are just as important can, at times, go unasked. Is there anyone inquiring about your own needs? Who is the advocate for the caregiver, who is also a senior? These kinds of questions are often ignored — thus leaving the older caregiver’s needs neglected.

Stress is an important factor to consider when deciding to be the primary caregiver for another senior. A recent Pennsylvania State University study showed profound positive effects in the lives of caregivers of elderly who participated in an Adult Day Health Care program. Caregiver participants in the Penn State study had their saliva measured on days where their care recipient was in the day care program and on days when they had not attended. Biological indicators of stress registered a lower reading on days when the care recipients attended, versus days when they had not. Older care providers can feel the burden of the stress of care giving disproportionately, more so than their younger counterparts.

The choice to put the essential care of a loved one into the hands of professionals can be a positive experience when you consider the real advantages it creates for everyone involved. Hiring in-home help or moving your loved one into a facility with proper resources and skilled staff is an excellent alternative to taking senior care into your own hands — it’s frequently a far more healthy option for both the caregiver and the recipient, not to mention other members of the family who worry about both of you.

Having access to information and scientific data is useful when trying to make an informed decision. Seniors accepting the role of primary care provider may be putting themselves and the person receiving care at increased risk. Consider some of the drawbacks to a senior’s being the primary caregiver to another senior.


Poor health patterns
Being a primary caregiver at an older age can result in an increased likelihood to abuse drugs, tobacco, and/or alcohol, as well as neglecting nutrition.


High blood pressure
Higher blood pressure readings occur for spouses in the presence of their elderly partner, when the spouse has assumed the full time care role.


Older caregivers (aged 66-96) have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age.


Sometimes it’s possible to care so much for another that you miss doing what is really best for both of you. The paradox is difficult: You want to do what is best for your loved one, but it may not be best for yourself. While providing the care is often something you wish to do, it’s not always advisable. For most people, the goal is optimum care, and you can still participate in that care even if you are not the primary caregiver.