Let’s Hear It for Caregivers!

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




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