The daunting future of elderly caregiving

NORFOLK, Va. - Whether it's taking medication, getting up, or making sure her hair is nice and neat, Jane Van Wolkenton is there every step of the way for her elderly mom Audrey.

Jane and Audrey

"I just learned to do it by the seat of my pants. You just do what has to be done," said Jane, who moved in a year ago when her dad died. "I got a call and I came over here with the clothes on my back and I've been here ever since. I'm the primary caregiver."

Jane is one of more than 43.5 million people who take care of their loved ones, according to AARP. However, it can take a toll on them.

Sentara Home Health comes a couple of times a week to do occupational and physical therapy for Audrey. However, that doesn't include personal care such as bathing or dressing. That's why having a primary caregiver such as Jane is crucial.

"It is vital and it's also very difficult. The care of some person in the home, when the person cannot get out of the home is stressful and to make that commitment is huge," said Maureen Ryu from Sentara Home Health.

Jane has given up a lot of things, including going to the YMCA four times a week, outings with friends and taking care of her pets. Nowadays, she has to plan everything since her mom is a fall risk.

"I can run errands if I know she's going to be sleeping or not needing anything," said Jane.

A concern for researchers who are looking at the daunting economics of elder care is: Who will take care of the elderly population in the future? The number is expected to skyrocket, but not all adult children can sacrifice their life or afford to take care of their parents full-time.

"A lot of people assume somebody is going to take care of me, but who is that somebody going to be? And it's difficult to make that decision and you should make it early," said Ryu.

Ryu recommends people of all ages, even those who are in their 20s, to start looking into long-term care insurance to help offset the costs of caregiving. PACE is a program providing comprehensive care for the elderly and is an alternative to nursing homes since they come to the home. Sentara is also available to answer any questions.

Fortunately for Audrey, she has Jane and they have a good thing going. Jane admits her mom is relatively easy to take care of most of the time... if she's not being stubborn.