Caregivers have many names: sister, friend, husband, wife, daughter, son, neighbor, etc. November is National Caregiver Awareness Month, we should all find a way to consider the caregiver issues in our everyday work, and family.
The Caregiver Transformation
You are not born a caregiver, you become a caregiver. This transformation of becoming begins by first playing a role in a family system. The new role of caregiver often falls to the family member who is closest in connection or in proximity to the individual who is need of care.
Caregivers Come In Many Forms
If we break down the word caregiver, it is simple to define. Caregiver is someone who gives care to others. There are many types of caregivers. Mothers and fathers care for their young children until the children are able to care for themselves. In some cases when a child has a developmental or cognitive disorder, parents find themselves caring for children throughout adulthood.
In the field of disability, spouses and children often care for their parents or a sister may care for her brother. These may be developmental, physical, traumatic, or cognitive disabilities.
Many caregivers are providing support to an older adult with multiple health-related needs that have made it difficult for the individual to care for his or her own needs.
Am I a Caregiver?
Some people don’t know or consider themselves with the title of caregiver when they provide support to another close to them. Some spouses may feel this is their duty or responsibility as a spouse and that they deserve no other title. Some adult children who care for a parent at a great distance feel that because they are not local and their parent does not live with them therefore they are not a caregiver.
Benefits of Identifying as a Caregiver
It could be argued that identifying as a caregiver is going to serve to benefit the individual caregiver and the care receiver.
If the caregiver does think of his or herself as a CAREGIVER, this person may see the change in their role as it once was with the care receiver. Instead of being a daughter who found support from her father, she is now the daughter who cares for her father. Although this conflict may not seem great, it could potentially lead to conflict in the relationship. If the daughter does not see herself as an important piece of her father’s care there may be a higher chance that all of his care needs are not met. Also the daughter may not feel she needs the support that we know benefit s caregivers.
Caregivers have many jobs:
1. Assist or complete the basics needs including food, hygiene and medical care of the care receiver
2. Take care of home maintenance including cleaning, and home modifications
3. Manage and maintain financially security and needs including bill payment
4. Provide companionship, emotional support and meaning to the care receiver who otherwise may have been challenged to do so independently
5. Make difficult decisions regarding health care and personal care of the care receiver; this may include decisions for the person to move to a new care setting
6. And many other tasks and duties
The Cost of Caregiving
Many family and non paid caregivers have this role as the only option. This may mean the person needs care that could be met by a private agency, but due to high cost of ongoing care, many families are not able to choose this type of care. In addition many caregivers feel a great responsibility to do their best on their own to care for the person they are often emotionally close to and have a long term relationship with. But at what cost to the caregiver.
“Put your oxygen mask on before you assist others”
Many caregivers I have met, have been told that they must take care of themselves. Some laugh at this, some are concerned by this and others take this very seriously.
Those who laugh often feel that the goal of taking care of themselves is unnecessary or unattainable when compared to the high needs of the care receiver. This person may be overwhelmed by the guilt of caregiving.
Those who become concerned are those who may feel this goal is unattainable and that they may suffer as a result. This caregiver is often already very stressed and noticing changes within him/herself. They may feel that this is yet another task on the very long list of responsibilities.
The person who takes this very seriously has already set goals for respite on a regular basis and works through the feelings of guilt as a caregiver to manage his or her own needs.
No matter what the caregiver response to respite and support, we need to find a way to support the caregiver. What has worked for you as a caregiver? How have you stayed healthy and happy? If you work with caregivers, what do you recommend for caregivers?
Thanks to Heidi Enriquez for editing the post. Also thank you to Rosie O’Beirne for sharing her picture with us!