decision to become a caregiver for a parent, other relative
or friend is not to be taken lightly. Caregiving has become
one of the most important personal issues of the decade, as
a growing percentage of the population reaches old age and develops
impairments that reduce their ability to care for themselves.
It wasn't long ago when women in the workplace asked for daycare
services for their children. Today and in the next decade, women
(and men) need eldercare services to ease the burden of caring
for elderly or infirm parents.
Although few companies offer such services today, experts predict
that in another 10 years, these services will be as commonplace
as corporate daycare.
The problems faced by caregivers and their patients who suffer
from Alzheimer's, dementia or other loss of capacity, can be
overwhelming. Before assuming responsibilities, it should be
recognized that the role of caregiver strongly impacts on one's
job, family and social interactions.
The energy required for routine household chores can be tiring,
but the added physical and emotional stress of bathing; feeding
and otherwise caring for an elderly parent, can be mindboggling.
Expenses attributed to the care of the older person are often
subsidized by the caregiver. This can result in a financial
burden, too, when added to college tuitions, childcare and unpaid
days off from work.
The family routine is further upset by the myriad of adjustments
that must be made, such as the addition of a hospital bed and
other apparatus, moving of furniture, a child having to give
up his room, or the cancellation of a vacation or weekend trip.
Relationships can become strained, and unresolved conflicts
often surface at a time when the caregiver is least equipped
to deal with them. The parent-child relationship role becomes
reversed and is difficult to accept.
Today, a growing number of children and teenagers have grandparents,
or event parents, who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
If the affected person lives at home or with family members,
caregiving can be a 24hour activity.
Every family member becomes involved, making it difficult for
parents to assess the impact on teenagers and younger children.
Time is of the essence and middleaged children are often occupied
with the needs of elderly parents.
Caregivers need time to themselves, as well as assurance from
others that they are not alone and have a support network. Friends
often become distant because of time restrictions on the part
of the caregiver.
What can caregivers do to achieve a balance between their eldercare
responsibilities and their roles as parents. friends and professionals
in the workplace?
Many cities and towns have support organizations that offer
information on local adult daycare, nursing assistance and other
programs that can be helpful to both the caregiver and the patient.
Call the Greater Hartford Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association
(860-956-9560) for a list of support groups in your area.
Many families find that relatives or close friends are willing
to share in caregiving. In the best interests of the substitute
caregiver and the patient, it is important to observe the basic
rules of patience, forbearance, reassurance, repetition and,
most important, good humor.
An adult daycare program geared to patients with memory loss,
for example, can be a great source of help for a primary caregiver
and family. Such programs offer specific times one or more days
a week when the patient cari be left in the care of others.
This provides a muchneeded respite for the caregiver.
How long should a caregiver and family take responsibility for
an aging relative? Consider these questions:
- Is the
Is he or
she safe in the home environment?
- Is the
caregiver/family physically and emotionally able to care for
the patient's needs and protect him?
- Can the
patient function independently in the most basic ways?
- Is the
cost of 24-hour-a-day supervision by paid assistants greater
or less than the financial and human cost of the trauma (for
both the caregiver and the patient) of institutional care?
- Are you
maintaining the caregiver role for the right reason (and not
out of a sense of guilt or obligation)?
When the situation deteriorates, consult with family
members physician(s), a family counseling agency, clergy and
other professionals. Weigh the alternatives and choose the option
that provides the best solution for the patient and the caregiver.
There's a world of difference between caring and caregiving.