This article is more than 13 years old.

We are deep into December and facing all of the stresses that accompany the holidays. Yet along with shopping and feasting, the month presents an interesting challenge for those in the “sandwich generation” - baby boomers forced to address the needs of both their own children and their aging parents.

For many adult children, this time of year is characterized by family visits that can reveal physical and mental changes in their parents. Although free moments are limited, it is important that adult children address an often overlooked healthcare expenditure that is particularly evident during the holidays, the high financial and emotional cost of elder depression.

Amidst gatherings with friends and family, an older adult may view the holidays as a painful reminder of times past, with factors such as loss of independence, social isolation and financial limitations adding to the burden. With depression afflicting more than two million of the 34 million 65 and older, those with symptoms of depression have roughly 50% higher healthcare costs than non-depressed seniors. Yet as soon as regular care is needed, the burden falls to adult children.

In addition to the financial strains of such a responsibility, (in 2000, a typical family caregiver lost $109 per day in wages and health benefits due to the need to provide full time care), are the emotional and physical effects of caregiving. Studies have shown that the extreme stress associated with caregiving can take as much as 10 years off a person’s life. With the American demographic skewing rapidly towards an older population, it is important for families to map out a caregiving plan to keep costs, and stress levels, down.

Arrangements include deciding on whether or not a family member will age within their own home with outside assistance or move in with a child. Another important discussion, however difficult, is for the entire family to have a full understanding of an elder adult’s wishes for end-of-life care. So as not to result in further problems later, families can seek mediating help from palliative care physicians or elder law attorneys.

The holidays provide a great opportunity to reconnect with your family and evaluate the overall health of everyone around you, especially older relatives. Watching an older adult age gracefully into their golden years does not have to be a stressful period with a concerted effort to stave off health problems before they worsen.

John Paul Marosy
Executive Director, Visiting Nurses Association of Boston, Private Care

This program aired on December 24, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.