Among those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s, huge numbers are called upon to provide caring for aging relatives. More than ever before.
By 2020, for the first time in human history, there will be more individuals over 65 than children under the age of 5.
What this astounding statistic translates to is that for many of us, if we’re not caring for our aging spouses, we’re likely caring for our parents and grandparents. And if we, ourselves, aren’t caregivers, we undoubtedly are close to someone who is.
With this reality, an intriguing and vital need has arisen: How do we care for caregivers?
While we naturally focus on those who need caregiving due to medical necessity, the fact is, primary caregivers – most often spouses and children – have profoundly important needs, as well. How do we as a society and as individuals assess and support those needs?
The first step as those on the outside is to recognize the breath of the situation the caregiver is addressing. Often caregivers, based on pure love, shoulder far more responsibility than they express. Caregivers can feel every emotion from ultimate obligation to feeling as though their own needs are less important, so they rarely express the true scope of what they’re going through. As a support system for caregivers, we must make an effort to learn as much as we can about the reality of the situation, even beyond what the caregiver shares. We must strive to view the circumstance objectively and determine where the caregiver is at – physically, emotionally and mentally.
Studies show that caregivers can experience symptoms ranging from fatigue to anxiety to depression – and we don’t need a degree to recognize those symptoms. We know the personalities of those close to us, and when we see adverse changes in a caregiver, it’s a clear sign that he or she needs additional support.
While we never wish to pull a caregiver out of a situation – after all, one’s heart and soul is in it – the single most effective form of caring for a caregiver is by giving him or her a break from the circumstance via respite care. When a caregiver is serving a loved one around the clock, again, we know it takes its toll. A daily form of respite for the caregiver – where someone else assists while the primary caregiver gets a break – dramatically improves the circumstance for everyone. As family and friends of caregivers, if we can ensure respite, whether it’s through outside professionals or loved ones, it dramatically improves the circumstance. A gentleman caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s recently described how, with the support of his children, having one hour per day of respite care, so he can run his errands, has dramatically reduced his stress levels, making him a better caregiver.
Indeed, caregiving to the extent that we are is a remarkably new phenomena of which society has never known. And, more and more families are having to navigate this process every day. We still have a lot to learn, personally and culturally. However, what we know for certain is that in order to best care for those in need, we must also care for caregivers.