By Anna Maria Clement, PhD, LN
Caregiving is one of the noblest attributes that we can share with others. Instinctively, it is most people’s desire to protect and support those they love. In this world where we have not been taught to honor our self, we often give without boundaries to such a degree that it becomes a detriment rather than a positive experience.
As one who naturally, and in a maternal way, loves to nurture, I gravitated to work in the field of care. Now in my 47th year, there is a lot of clarity as to the help and harm that this vocation offers. In the 1980s when I was attending nursing school, I chose to temporarily work in a nursing home to gain insight on how we treat our aging population. Society has historically protected its seniors; it is a new phenomenon that we stick them in facilities so they can be cared for by others. With dementia, Alzheimer’s and frailty sky rocketing - at the same time as work demands are increasing - it is easy to justify removing your loved ones from your life. For those courageous people who do embrace their responsibility and return the love and support that they received in their youth, it is a formidable responsibility. These actions demand a high level of commitment and are heavily taxing. Caregivers often feel unappreciated, exhausted, and are vulnerable to illness. This compounds when those you care for find no resolution and it seems hopeless and eternal. Women are far more likely to be caregivers due to their maternal instincts and the role that they play within the nuclear family.
A recent study conducted by Supriya Sakar M.S. Gerontology 2015 showed that in
a total of 207 family caregivers, 25 were males, compared with 182 females; women were more stressed and suffered more depression.
CDC reviewed the status of homebound caregivers, reporting that the vast majority were middle aged, impacting their ability to withstand the significant emotional and physical stress imposed on them by being the sole support. Men tend to give more ‘absentee support’, providing guidance and economics from afar. Women generally take more of a hands-on approach. In the developed world, 20% of the population are caregivers supporting the aging population; parents are a major part of this mix with their children. In the U.S. alone, there are more than two million grandparents raising their grandchildren, and in the last generation it has become common globally for adult children to stay at home and not leave the nest. This is so common it has been given the term “failure to launch”.
Today, the foremost reasons for needing a caregiver is the explosion of memory loss leading to Alzheimer’s and also autism. These disorders will double in the next 30 years, and in the case of autism it is expected that soon half the children born in the “advanced” societies will be born with that disorder. Out of all concerns,
these are the most taxing, since the disconnect and lack of communication frustrates both the victim and the supporter.
Economics play a pivotal role in raising stress, beyond the exceptional physical and emotional demands placed on the caregivers. When there is not enough money to foster the needs of either party, it often becomes the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. Long-term care insurance is becoming more popular, and is very important, yet it’s quite costly and mounts as we age.
Professions of care (doctors, nurses, aids, home health care, senior living, long-term care facilities and senior homes etc.) play a central role in today’s society since there are ever-increasing numbers of older people than in previous generations. Eighty-five years plus is the fastest growing demographic in Western culture. There are more centenarian and now super centenarians (110-plus) then there were only a short time ago. Oddly enough, this does not mean life expectancy is increasing; it is simply that there were more children born in the early to mid 20th century. In fact, in the U.S., life expectancy is dropping. For the first time in recorded history in North America and other countries that live similarly, babies born today are expected to perish a minimum of five years earlier than their parents’ generation.
Most people do not conveniently drop dead, they develop debilitating coronary events, diabetes, MS, Parkinson’s, cognitive disorders, etc. Today, even our youth are sicker with chronic disease by a shocking 57%. When the Millennials reach their 60’s, the writing is on the wall, with forecasts of catastrophe and a collapse of the healthcare system.
Caregivers need to create schedules that afford breaks, back-up help, and quiet time each and every day. Needless to say their diets, exercise routine and socialization must also be a major focus for them to achieve success, without becoming ill themselves.
Those with sympathy, compassion, strength, and the desire to love are fulfilled with the very act of care. Unfortunately, most people do not know their compass enough to put on the brakes and not overdo it. Emotions cause the most stress for those untrained caregivers who are tending to loved ones. There is a point when it comes down to a very simple question: “is this truly too much for me to handle?”. If the perception is “yes”, you must find a way to relinquish the guilt that likely will arise when asking for outside assistance.
Although they are not abundant in North America, most of the world provides public facilities to help and home their aged and challenged population. Providing you continue to share support and love with the person you are responsible for after they check in, you should be able to release the self-criticism, lift the sadness, and know you made the choice that cares for both of you.
Over time we’ve conferred with thousands of professionals and family support people. When they focus on themselves and take home the tools that we develop, they are able to ride a new wave of health and happiness so that they are not only less stressed but better at rendering care.