Caregiving Revisited

Thank you to everyone who wrote comments about last week’s post ‘Are You A Caregiver?’ The people who commented provide insight for the rest of us. This is so important because many of us will become caregivers at one time or another. All of the comments came from women, not unusual since the majority of caregivers are women, a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law or friend.

It appears the caregivers are taking on this task out of love and friendship, whether you are tending to a spouse, parent, grandchildren or a friend. Our human connection is the impetus for our caring for others. For those of us who are married, we apparently take the vow of “in sickness and in health” seriously. We love our spouses, our children and grandchildren and even our friends. We honor the relationships by continuing to care for them in a time of need.

Most caregivers are engaging in some type of self-care to give themselves a break. Reading for relaxation, tai chi, yoga, painting, a long lunch with a spouse and writing all made the list. According to my research on several sites, breaks are very important for fending off stress. Other recommendations for breaks are taking a twenty minute walk, meditation or talking to a friend.

I personally find art to be very calming. Drawing in particular puts me in what I call ‘the zone’ where I am so focused on what I’m doing, all other thoughts are zoned out. It is meditative.

Carole, who commented about caring for her spouse with cognitive decline, also writes a blog. Carole and I have something in common — we both find writing about our experiences to be therapeutic. You don’t have to start a blog and put it out there for the world, but writing about your thoughts, feelings and daily life as a caregiver may ease your situation. A simple journal will do. I invite you to visit Carole’s site at: http://oneoflifeslittlesurprises.blogspot.com

While you are supporting someone else, it’s important for caregivers to develop their support system. Friends and other family members can become your first line of defense against stress. It’s important to ask for and accept help if you need it. Many of us don’t feel like we should ask for help.  We tell ourselves we can do it all. We can’t.

Donna’s comment reminded me of an article I read many years ago about baby boomers being the sandwich generation. The writer was using the analogy of a sandwich because many of my generation were still caring for children at home as well as aging parents. Donna pointed out the situation today where we may be caring for both grandchildren and aging parents. Now that our kids are adults, many of us are pitching in to care for their kids.

Like caregiving itself, comments ran the gamut of some assistance, such as going along on doctor’s appointments to occasional babysitting to full-time assistance handling every household chore as well as caring for loved ones. According to the Mayo Clinic it is the people committed to high hours of care who are in most danger of feeling stress and strain with this role. Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

1. Accept help and focus on what you are able to provide.

2. Set realistic goals and learn to say no to things which add strain, such as hosting holiday meals.

3. Get connected with community organizations supporting caregivers and stay connected with family and friends.

4. Take care of your own health including regular checkups and discuss your situation with your doctor.

I thank everyone who contributed to this post with their comments and insights. Please take a minute to read their comments and look at Carole’s blog.  Not everyone retired expecting to be in the role of caregiver.  Life sometimes spins us a curve ball.  We are all on a different journey but their journey may become our journey one day.

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Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

Some of my best ideas for posts come from friends, family and, of course, my readers. A friend, who is in the process of finding nursing home care for her 92 year old mother, suggested I write this post on caregiving. With reader comments about their caregiving responsibilities, it’s a subject I’ve looked at before. Admittedly I avoided it because caregiving is such a broad subject with many layers. Where to begin? I decided to begin with the caregiver, a many layered and varied subject in and of itself with as many scenarios as there are people.

According to caregiving.org in 2015 there were nearly 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States alone. With 10,000 baby boomers arriving daily at their 65th birthday, that number is expected to rise. Boomers are not only giving care, they are needing care. However, caregiving.org reported 1 in 10 caregivers were over the age of 75. Forty percent of caregivers report the care as being a high burden for them and higher hour (44.5 hours a week) caregivers are stressed. The physical burden, especially at an older age, appears to carry a larger emotional burden as the hours of caregiving amount to that of a full-time job with little or no time for a personal break.

As a wife and mother I’ve been in the role of caregiving in the past, one that comes as a natural part of raising children or caring for a spouse recuperating after an accident. Most of the caregivers are, in fact, women. I can imagine that as we age and find ourselves caring for someone, we may not view ourselves as caregivers. It’s what we have always done for family or sometimes, even friends.

I’ve known many people, like my friend, who are either caregiving directly or are responsible for arranging caregiving. It is a complicated subject. There is no one size fits all. Some people are caregiving for an aging spouse or other relative or friend, while others are continuing the care of handicapped adult children and others still are taking on the upbringing of grandchildren. Some retired not expecting to be in this role.

Earlier in the summer I had the pleasure of having one of my grandchildren visit for two weeks as he accompanied Martin and me on a trip to Michigan to visit our oldest daughter and her family. An active, engaging seven-year-old caring for him takes a lot of energy. There are the usual undertakings like making sure he is eating his vegetables or getting a bath or off to bed at a prescribed time to the unfamiliar activities of assisting with the technical gadgets this generation carries with them as a matter of course. Then there was keeping track of him, keeping him occupied, making sure he is spending his time well. I found myself more tired in the evening. What was a snap when I was thirty takes more effort for the aging me. And, I wasn’t having to be concerned with school, financial responsibilities or healthcare.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was interviewing the local Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer for United Way. The woman representing the organization remarked about how stressful the role of caregiving is for the caregiver, impacting their quality of life and even their health as they care for their loved one. Support and a respite, if only for a few hours a week is important. Depending on the extent and duration of the caregiving, it can be stressful, especially as we age.

According to the Center for Disease Control more than half of caregivers said they do not have time to take care of themselves and almost half said they are too tired to do so. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not in that role, at least not yet, but this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, you may not be able to help the other passengers.” If you are in the role of being a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself so you are able to continue to care for your loved one. Otherwise, what will happen to them if you leave this world first?

That means eating well balanced meals, finding time for some exercise, getting your immunizations, health check-ups and taking any medications you may need. A support group where you can share your story and network for needed services can provide some relief for the stress. Is that easier said than done?

As I mentioned above, caregiving and receiving care is expected to take on more significance as baby boomers age. This generation’s huge numbers is expected to be an opportunity for companies in the healthcare and senior care industries. Most of this generation wants to age in place using in-home services. Realistically, they may not have the financial capacity to go to assisted living facilities.  Aging in place may not be by choice but necessity.

As also mentioned, some of my readers have written comments about caregiving responsibilities. I’d like to hear from any and all of you who are engaged in caregiving be it a spouse, parent, adult child, grandchildren or friend. Caregiving runs the gamut of taking someone grocery shopping, to the doctor or doing some housework to being responsible for attending to all physical and personal needs, finances and even some medical or nursing duties.

For starters:  What are your responsibilities?  How does your caregiving impact your hours for taking care of yourself?  Do you have time for activities you enjoy like a hobby? Do you feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities or is it something you enjoy doing? Why is that? Did you expect to be in this role when you retired or did it catch you by surprise? If you didn’t expect to be a caregiver, how did it change your retirement? Do you consider yourself in good health? Has being a caregiver caused your own health to decline? Do you feel more stressed or is caregiving just one more hat to wear? And whatever else you want to comment about.

Let us know what it’s like on the front lines of caregiving. Tell me your story.  I’ll post your comments and pass your observations on to others in a future post. Your story may help someone else.