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Family Caregiving: Sharing the Work

By Rita L. Calderon

(Page 1 of 3)

I am my brother’s keeper…
...To love, comfort, honor in sickness and in health...

How we took these words for granted.  Yet it was hard to visualize that bright-eyed, young beauty in front of us as old and sick.  And easier to be our brother’s keeper when we lived in extended families in a less transient nation.  If you can’t take Dad to the doctor next Tuesday, call your sister who lives over on Broadway, or the nephew or the neighbor.

The phenomenon of nuclear-family caregiving for our elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved ones is a pandemic crisis in modern cultures.  Some 44 million Americans are family caregivers, defined as family or friends.  (“Caregiving in the U.S.,” National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2004.)   A 2000 survey by the National Family Caregivers Association put the figure at 50 million.

A busy executive whose husband had a stroke told me, “Oh, it’s not too much for me.  Yes, I’ve thought of getting help but, the truth is, I don’t have time to sit down and think about what I would have them do.”  I responded, “So, if it’s not too much work, why don’t you have time to?”  A blank stare was her answer.  Moreover, the suggestion that we might need outside help evokes profound feelings of guilt and disloyalty, even if unconsciously.  It seems, well, unseemly to ask someone else to do our job.  But perhaps it isn’t our job alone.

Also, it almost seems easier (or more economic) to do it ourselves – only it isn’t.  A checklist can help assess the need for outside help in caring for our loved ones.  Here are some signs:

  • Taking excessive time off work to do caregiving chores
  • More forgetful even with your many “to do lists”
  • Too tired for the usual social phone calls or emails at night
  • Irritable, edgy, angry or anxious
  • Low in spirits, feeling depressed
  • Sleep or eating disruption
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigued more often and more easily
  • Frequent colds or getting generally rundown
  • Frequently sighing and/or crying
  • Neglecting other areas and interests in your own life

These are signs that it’s high time to call for help because they are symptoms of excessive and harmful stress.  Stress and depressed moods come and go, but there’s a distinction between caring for children and caring for the ailing family member because of the future outcome.  Exhausted by nightfall, you stoop to pick up your healthy child’s socks, expecting a bright future of growth and independence for him/her.  In contrast, we care for our elders with love and a sense of duty (sometimes with resentment), but knowing where the road will end.  Feelings of pessimism and hopelessness overpopulate this territory.

 

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