A couple of decades ago, the U S Army had a promotional ad on television that ended with “We do more by 9am than most people do all day.” There is another category of people for whom this is true as well: caregivers. Caregiving is not for the feint of heart and not all people can take this on. Being a caregiver for another person is something we probably don’t think about until it happens.
The best time to learn about this role is before you take it on. I hope to provide some ideas of what it is like and how to be a better caregiver if the time comes that you are helping a loved one.
At one time or another we are all caregivers. All parents fall into this category, as well as aunts, uncles, and grandparents that help with children. But in this case, I’m referring to people who are caring for another young adult or an adult who have the inability to take care of themselves.
Suddenly You’re A Caregiver
Unfortunately, most people are thrust into the role suddenly due to perhaps an accident, or an illness, or other crisis event of a loved one. The caregiver will take on the role out of love and caring for the other person. This role may be a temporary one (in the case of recovery from an accident), or it could be open-ended and last for the life of the loved one. Often, when one takes on the role of caregiver, the full implications are not yet known and what was thought to be short-term turns out to be long-term with associated long-term consequences to the caregiver.
Another aspect of becoming a caregiver suddenly is that you don’t know what you don’t know. The immediate focus is on the other person. While health professionals can give specific guidance, it is up to the caregiver to learn what resources are available. The caregiver struggles and might stumble upon helpful resources, resulting in a wish-I’d-known-about-this-sooner reaction.
As a daily money manager, more than once I’ve had someone tell me that they could have used my services in the past, but didn’t know they were available. This can be typical of many types of services that are available to assist caregivers.
Some Things To Know About The Job
Let me go over a few topics that a caregiver will need to know (and preferably before the role is taken on). First, recognize that the caregiver is not superman or superwoman. While they may be expected to take on that role 24x7x365, that just isn’t sustainable. Those who do try to do this die trying. Seriously. Nearly 30% of caregivers will die before the person they are giving care to passes away. For caregivers 70 and older, that rises to 60%. This job can kill the caregiver from the stress and physical and mental exhaustion.
Even though they may not want to, it is important to identify respite services that can come in and give them a break. There are many non-medical home health services that can provide someone for 4+ hours at a time to take that load off of the caregiver. In addition, friends and other family may be able to help support if asked.
Another big help is to discover that the caregiver is not alone in this journey. There are support organizations for nearly any situation a caregiver might be in. For people with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association has support groups for caregivers. Search for the situation and “support group” to find these organizations and groups.
I help with one support group as a volunteer and I see over and over again how grateful people are to talk to someone else who is going through or has gone through their situation. The others in the group can be a great source of knowledge to help figure out what the caregiver doesn’t know. A caregiver may feel that they are all alone in this task, and it can be very helpful to talk to others who really do know how they feel and what life is like as a caregiver.
One resource I can recommend for Delaware caregivers is the Delaware Senior Resource Network Facebook page. This is a wonderful place to ask questions because there are a large number of companies and individuals who provide services to not just to older adults, but disabled or people needing care.
Another aspect of being a caregiver is the financial toll it will take. Caregivers, particularly ones who are doing this full-time, will take a financial hit for doing this. It may mean quitting a job because it isn’t possible to provide the level of care needed while still working a full-time job. It may mean going to part-time hours in a job. And it is likely that the caregiver will be providing some financial assistance as well.
According to the AARP, more than 3 out of 4 caregivers will provide financial assistance to the person they are caring for in the form of housing, medical and medication premiums, copays, meals, transportation, or mobility and other assistive devices. This doesn’t count the large number of unpaid hours spent caregiving (and the associated loss of potential income).
The Best Job You’ll Ever Have?
There is one other aspect of being a caregiver that I’ve also heard more than once. After their work is done and they have been able to recover from the role, they often say that it gave them time with the loved one they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And they will say that although it had some very dark times, they were glad they did it and probably would have still taken on that role, even knowing what they know now.
Therefore, if you are called upon to be a caregiver for someone, you should expect several things. Expect to spend more time on it than you think. Expect to need to take care of yourself, even when you don’t think you have time to. Expect to have some good days and not so good days. And expect to spend more money out of your pocket than you might have thought you would. But you may also consider this to be the most fulfilling role you’ve ever had.