Giving—And Taking Care

A 76 year-old man and his 72 year-old wife who had a stroke.

A 41 year-old mother and her 15 year-old son who had a head injury.

A 22 year-old woman who recently graduated college and her 82 year-old grandmother with dementia.

A 71 year old-old woman and her 43 year-old daughter-in-law with Parkinson’s Disease.

A 59 year-old man and his 82 year-old mother who recently fell and fractured her hip.

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Caregiving is an important job, no matter who is providing the care, and who is receiving the care.  At some point in many people’s lives, there comes a time when a person needs help completing tasks such as bathing, dressing, moving from chair to bed, dispensing medications, cooking/eating and paying bills.

This need can arise from multiple causes, such as illness, injury, surgery, stroke, broken bones, and dementia.  Any of these—and many others—can render a person incapable of taking care of some or all of their needs, either temporarily or permanently.

Caregiving comes in many forms; comes in many different types of relationships and many different kinds of adults and disabled children.

 According to AARP, 43.5 million American adults provided unpaid care to a child or an adult with an illness or disability in 2017.   Of those, 34.2 million provided this care to an adult age 50 or older.

The majority—82%–care for one adult.  Fifteen percent care for two adults, and 3% care for three or more adults.

A significant percentage—15.7%–provide this care for someone with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, including dementias caused by drug or alcohol abuse, multiple head blows or repeated strokes.

Unpaid caregiving, which is also called informal caregiving, is a job that is under-understood, under-appreciated, and under-compensated.  It is a necessary job, but not one recognized by our society for the value it provides.

Paid caregiving is recognized as a job, whether it is provided in a person’s home, or within a facility.  Unfortunately, for the work that is performed, it is often not compensated well enough to maintain a sufficient workforce, or quality of character of the caregiving employee.

Caregiving is a hard job, regardless of whether it is paid or not paid.  It can be part-time, or 24/7.  It can be temporary, or permanent.

Always, it is a necessary component of the world of work, but a more necessary component of humanity.  We all need each other at different times in our lives to make it through.

The high cost of caregiving is often measured in personal terms.  The caregiver, because our society doesn’t fully recognize the value of this service, does not receive a sufficient level of recognition or status in order for the value of this work to be felt by the caregiver. In addition, if caregiving is provided in the home, it is typically a job that isolates the caregiver from others, leaving them with no peers to interact with.

If the caregiver is a family member, and there are other family members who do not provide regular caregiving for their loved one in need, the level of work and commitment necessary on the part of the caregiver is often underestimated, and misunderstood by some of the other family members.  If they do not perform the regular caregiving tasks, they may not fully understand the depth and complexity of the tasks necessary to make it all work.

The routines, the appointments, the likes and dislikes, the triggers and the non-verbal messages are all important parts of the big picture, all parts of the process of understanding the needs of the person in care.

The redemption for the caregiver is this:  despite the hard work, the personal sacrifice, the pain and lack of attention to their own needs, the rewards are beyond description.  Having spent that time and effort to care for their loved one, the sure knowledge that they did all they could to help them through is the most rewarding payment available.  For most people who provide care, this is payment enough.

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“I was so surprised.  They just showed up with a meal, with a crew of three that could outshine any professional service.  They cleaned my house, did the laundry, set my pills out for the next week, sorted the mail and baked cookies for me. 

Beth, a 71 year-old woman recovering from surgery in her home.  Her friends simply showed up to help her take care of these needs.  They didn’t ask her what she needed; they made a plan and carried it out.

Many people who need such help won’t ask for it.  And, when asked by well-meaning friends and family members “What can I do to help?” won’t ask for such specific needs to be met.  Which means, of course, that often times it is appropriate and most beneficial to anticipate their needs, and make a plan to fill them, just as these three above did.

This is also known as caregiving.  It is not a regularly scheduled commitment, but it is giving care to a person in need.  There are likely people in our lives who would benefit from such care, and simply showing up with a plan would very likely be a great gift for them.

Most caregivers are women.  Women are known to be more nurturing than men, but this is not always the case.  Many men provide tender, loving care to a spouse, parent or other loved one.

Most people who are providing regular care likely don’t attend to their own needs.  Often, a caregiver suffers psychologically or medically, as care giving is very taxing. If you know a person who provides regular care to another person, consider offering your time and effort to take care of the person in need to give the caregiver a break.

If you are the caregiver, it is important to recognize and realize your own limitations.  If your health—physical or otherwise—is being compromised, don’t be afraid to speak up in order to have your own needs met.  Care for the caregiver is an under-recognized need, and in order for you to continue to provide care, you must take care of yourself.  If you have accepted the role of caregiver, but know you simply are not capable of meeting the needs of your loved one, you must find an alternative form of care.  If you are not able to sleep due to the needs of someone else, or if you are not physically able to complete the tasks necessary such as transfers and bathing, then it is not in their best interests for you to continue, as much as you want it to be.  Seek out extra care, or perhaps placement in an assisted living or nursing facility.  As humans, we all have limitations, and it is important to recognize them.

Taking care and giving care are parts of life that most of us experience at one time or another.  Helping someone recover from an illness, injury or surgery is a gift that may one day give back to you.

Sometimes, too, the best care we can give is simply listening, and holding someone’s hand.