Let’s Hear It for Caregivers!

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Rosalyn Carter once opined,  “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”  With this compassionate outlook on life, the former First Lady started the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) in 1987.

Statistics claim that there are more than 65 million family caregivers to dependent elders  in the United States.  Again, according to statistics,  in-home care giving saves our country an estimated $450 billion/year.  It has also been well documented that caregivers have shorter lifespans than non-caregivers do.   Caregiver “burnout” is very real as are compassion fatigue and post-traumatic stress.

Having been a caregiver for various family members over a span of 17 years, I know.  But my circumstances did not even touch a friend of mine who was taking care of her ailing 87 year old mother, her down-syndromed sister, her Asperger son and was working 3/4 time as a principal of a small parochial school. When she started to feel physical symptoms, she ignored them.  She did not have time to think about herself.  When she finally went to the doctor for a check up, she was diagnosed with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer.  And yes, major intervention at a crisis level had to occur.

And yet, caregivers are probably one of the more under-served population in our country.  In part, this is because when one is in caregiving modality, it is difficult to see beyond the immediate needs of one’s charge(s).  Also, if the person you are caring for is a spouse or parent, it is hard to imagine anyone else doing the job.  As one’s charge(s) become(s) more and more dependent on the one person, it becomes difficult to imagine someone else being able to step in and do the job correctly.  There is also the sense of guilt that comes with handing your “loved one” over to a “stranger.”

Yet, According to Leisa Easom, PhD, RN, Executive Director of RCI:

We are facing a caregiving crisis in the United States. Our aging population, increased longevity and the growing burden of chronic illnesses escalate the need for caregivers. Caregivers need support and community programs to help them remain healthy and maintain caring for another.

The mission of RCI is to provide “….caregivers with effective supports and making investments that promote caregiver health, skills and resilience. … to provide greater recognition and support for professional and family caregivers.”  Thus, a great resource to turn to.  But we also have to develop this kind of resource at our local levels.

A few ways that this might be able to be done:

  • Educating caregivers and the public about the situation and needs of caregivers is of foremost importance;
  • Coming up with a way to provide effective support to caregivers that target their specific needs and circumstances;
  • advocating for tax and public policy changes so that caregivers receive some financial support.

Ms. Easom further recommends that:

Creating a National Quality Caregiving Task Force would increase the efficiency and speed the development of this proposed [support] system.  It would minimize conflicts and duplication of efforts and assure accountability for outcomes.

We certainly need to think seriously about how to support and manage this growing demographic.

© Yvonne Behrens 2012

 

 

 

Be Prepared

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As a boomer who married late in life, has no children, and who will probably outlive her husband who is older than she is and is presently battling cancer, I fall in the category of the 40% who will probably end up in a nursing home.  Well, maybe not since I have a community of friends who may pull together to create an environment where we can all age together, providing each other the social and emotional support we may need and pooling our resources to take care of our physical needs.

[by the way this picture is of a girl scout, not me, although I was a girl scout for a couple of years. I am using this picture to reflect the girl scout motto, "Be Prepared." That explained, back to my entry.....]

I am hopeful.  These friends have been very forthcoming and helpful with my circumstances with my husband.  Since we are all aging at the same time, we may recognize the need to be pro-active in preparing for our twilight years, which is the point of this article.

Mostly, we boomers, especially at this age, are not really thinking about the time when we may become more frail.  The fact is, we are very much not prepared for that time in our lives.  At this stage, we are probably loosing parents and possibly friends or spouses.  But we are still thinking about hiking with friends or traveling rather than being fed by somebody else or having a portable commode next to our beds.

But, and I can’t repeat this enough, now is the time to contemplate where and how we want to be spending those last years or months because NOW is when we can do something about putting everything in place.

According to presentations at the 4th Annual Symposium on Policy and Health, the complexities of family structures in today’s society does not lend itself to the traditional forms of caregiving for the elderly within the family units.  Presently, families perform about 75 percent of elderly care. This can be anything from running errands to full-time caregiving.  We are the group that is doing this caregiving.  But with the out of the box way we have proceeded with our lives,  we need to ask ourselves who will be taking care of us when we need that help?

Then there are the sub-groups such as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) who may have a more difficult time with care in their more frail years.  Recent research suggests that LGBT seniors are more prone to isolation and psychological distress than their heterosexual peers. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles’ Center for Health Policy Research reported in a study that half of Californian gay and bisexual men aged 50 to 70 live alone, compared with only 13.4 percent of straight men. More than one in four lesbian and bisexual women in California live alone as well.

Studies show that ethnic minorities rely on family members much more than their white counterparts.  But they are also less likely to seek outside help through social services or the medical establishment. According to studies provided by the American Psychological Association:

Studies show that ethnic minority caregivers provide more care than their White counterparts and report worse physical health than White caregivers (McCann et al, 2000). Several studies have found that African American caregivers experience less stress and depression and garner greater rewards from caregiving than White caregivers (Cuellar, 2002; Haley et al, 2004). Hispanic and Asian American caregivers, however, exhibit more depression than white caregivers (Haley et al, 2004).

Being boomers, we may end up causing a paradigm shift in how we approach our twilight years.  We may even affect how our society looks at the aging process.  We may develop creative ways of approaching support systems to serve our needs as we become more frail.  But unless we focus on this question now, we may end up in a nursing home, with strangers [sometimes -- when they are not being pulled in 20 different directions] responding to our needs.

Anyone for the idea of a Commune for the Aging?