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Q & A with Elinor Ginzler, Caregiving Expert, Former AARP Senior Vice President for Livable Communities

Ms. Ginzler, a national expert on aging issues and is frequently called upon to confer with industry leaders about aging issues and to address groups ranging from neighborhood associations to national organizations. She was recently AARP's lead spokesperson on older driver safety, mobility options, housing options and caregiving. She is co-author with Hugh Delehanty of Caring for Your Parents – The Complete Family Guide.

Be Smart. Be Well. sat down with Elinor Ginzler to discuss caregiving. Watch the video interview above or read the transcript below.

To learn more about Caregiving, visit Be. Smart. Be Well. Caregiving.

BSBW: Who are caregivers in America today?

Elinor Ginzler: Today in the United States, close to 80 percent of the long-term care that's given to people is given by family and friends who are not receiving pay for it. And so we only have about 20 to 25 percent that's really being provided by care providers that you think of like nursing homes and assisted living residences. This is a family affair. It's a friend affair. We found that there were 34 million people helping someone who was 50 years of age or older with their activities of daily living or with things like transportation, managing checkbooks, helping with doctor bills, all of that kind of care.

BSBW: What are the challenges of being a family caregiver?

Elinor Ginzler: There is some pretty scary statistical analysis that's been done of healthcare conditions and caregivers. They are more prone to hypertension. If they are suffering from some chronic disease: arthritis, heart disease, those kinds of things, high blood pressure, they manage it less well. Their chronic disease is less well managed than a non-caregiver. They are absolutely more prone to depression. And there can be some serious health disparities among the care giving population and the non-care giving population. And really when you think about it, that's the complete opposite combination that we want. We want the people who are providing care to be the healthiest because they do have a lot on their shoulders.

BSBW: How can families prepare for the inevitable?

Elinor Ginzler: When everything is fine, when people are highly functioning, when mom and dad are doing well, that's when you say let's talk together as a family; let's rejoice in how things are going well and let's discuss exactly how you, Mom and Dad, want things to go if it ever comes to pass that things aren't going so well, that you need some help. We need you to tell us. You need to stay in the driver's seat of this situation. You need to stay in control. The best way for you to stay in control is to make sure you have talked with us a lot about what kind of setting you want to live in, what kind of care you want to receive, who it is you want to be giving this care.

BSBW: How should family members talk about finances with their parents?

Elinor Ginzler: I don't want to take over your finances, but I want to make sure that if you're ever in a position where you can't handle your finances, you've thought it through. You've figured out who it is you want to be your agent under those circumstances and we've created the documents, those advanced planning documents so that they're available if you ever need them. And it really is a different way of thinking about this as an empowering and a control factor as opposed to a loss factor. It is certainly a good thing to recognize that we may not stay as healthy as we are right now in the future. And what we want is the highest possible quality of life in that future, throughout our lives. This is a way to put in to place as many pieces as possible to assure that quality of life. "If you don't tell me how you want to live, mom, I'm going to have to guess."

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