It was a delight to know that November was designated as a month given to honor caregivers. It was not clear, but it could be pointed to the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP) as the creator of this wonderful designation. Like celebrations of other heart-warming recognitions like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Secretary’s Day or the Grandparents’ Day which started a few years ago, it is a welcome addition.
Caregivers in America form something of an invisible army. Millions of people are taking care of parents or other relatives who have some dementia or debilitating illness – an estimated 40 million caregivers in the United States alone. If you’re a boomer, you may also be one of those family caregivers. And you might also face the emotional health, financial and career challenges that caregiving poses for individuals and the nation as a whole. Many are howling in anguish. The most common caregiver’s dilemma is the constant demands. Nights are as busy as days; like having a newborn who wakes up every two hours. Decisions may be made in a fog of sleep deprivation. The requirements to handle details come from every direction, not only from the sick person. Pay the bills. Find the best medical resources. Juggle the personalities of health care workers. Do they come when they promised? Are they competent? Of course, the challenges they face are a little different from other cases.
Some caregivers also have jobs and children. Family caregiving requires the skills of a project manager or logistic experts while others are faced with their own health decline while caring for the sick and how detached they became from their own lives. The feeling of hopelessness could set in like the feeling of a woman whose husband is sinking into Alzheimer’s whose greatest challenge is knowing that today will be the best it ever is. What the husband could do or who he could remember yesterday may not be the same today. And there will be less available tomorrow. Then, the loneliness. The person they love is still physically present but may not be there mentally or emotionally.
Perhaps the most difficult job anyone can undertake is that of a caregiver. It is a full-time commitment that requires tremendous energy, confidence, and inner strength. Caregiving is an opportunity to share the caregiver’s love and skill in compassionate and caring ways. By giving self in this way, unlimited joys and blessing are received. Although challenging at times, caregiving is rewarding. Spending quality time with a loved one while sharing moments and memories are priceless..
One interesting note about caregivers is that we often refer to caregivers as females. But the AARP Bulletin has published an interesting information that of the 40 million caregivers in the United States, about 16 million are males who care for a family member or friend. The role of male caregivers remains unobtrusive because they don’t feel “comfortable” asking for help when needed, and they don’t necessarily know where to turn. Thus, men face the challenges the hard way.
Lessons learned by these men were: To deal with the situation at home in a mature fashion; to better respond to her when she doesn’t quite understand what’s going on; to choose the proper phrase and how to keep her calm; when she’s in happy mood, sing and dance with her; satisfy her with good dinner; and realize that what he’s doing is allowing his wife to stay home instead of being in a nursing facility.
University of Michigan healthy aging poll, cosponsored by AARP, showed that 4 in 5 male caregivers found the duty at least somewhat stressful, but some now found it rewarding. Most said it made them more aware of their own future needs.
Caregiving is hard work and a swirl of emotions. It often leaves the caregiver feeling depleted, both physically and mentally. On-the-job pressures are experienced. Fear, anger, guilt-caring for a loved one can take a toll on them. Thus, they should get help to work through their emotions, too. Though taking care for a loved one can certainly be fulfilling, there’s no denying that it is emotionally taxing. I believe that this is where women caregivers have the advantage of performing the role. They are stronger and more resilient in facing challenging details of various and detailed situations and could better endure the difficulties, unpleasant and at times painful feelings encountered along the way.
Male or female caregivers need to be smart and strategic about setting limits on the tasks they take on, and recruit others to pitch in. Yes, taking some pressure off them is the key. Hire outside help if possible or involve other family members and friends. When family members do pitch in, then everyone feels like a team in caring for a loved one. Caregivers feel better supported and more resilient; family relationships become stronger and more enduring.
Hopes for Working Caregivers
By now, most of us probably have a notion of what a family caregiver is all about. Chances are some of us we’ve been one, needed one or known one. To reverberate, it can be a deeply rewarding job, but, it can be incredibly demanding. The family caregivers who also hold full or part-time jobs bear additional burdens. Trying to juggle work and caregiving takes a toll. They are grappling with finding a balance between their jobs and their caregiving responsibilities. What a great help if companies get a jump start on creating caregiver-friendly workplaces. Supporting workers would be good for business.
We give thanks for the caregivers and the roles they have played in our lives. We give thanks as well for the opportunities we have had to care for others. Care giving is an opportunity to share our love and skills in compassionate and caring ways. By giving ourselves in this way, we receive unlimited joys and blessings.