Sunday, June 22, 2014

Who will take care of you?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a nurse like Florence Nightingale. I read a biography about her when I was 8 years old and thought it would be cool to take care of people, especially those who are really hurt or sick.

The romantic image of a nurse or caregiver left me long ago. With age, I see how much energy and time it takes to care for someone, in a hospital or at home, and the older I get, I worry more about being a caregiver or worse yet, having to have someone care for me.

The jobs of a caregiver encompass “everything from buying someone groceries and managing their finances to helping them with bathing, dressing and other tasks of daily life” according to Drew DeSilver in a report for Pew Research. In addition, an AARP 2012 survey found that “the role of family caregivers has dramatically expanded to include performing medical/nursing tasks of the kind and complexity once only provided in hospitals.”

Susannah Fox, also of Pew Research, said, "As more people are able to be saved by medical advances, their lives are being extended, but they're also being sent home medically fragile. It's caregivers who are the first line of defense." Life today is a double-edged sword: medical advances help us live longer, but because we live longer, we need someone to take care of us.

We all hope that there is a family member who will step up to the plate when the time comes to care for us. I tell my daughter Kelsey that she’s the one who drew the unlucky lot because she will have many people to take care of -- me, her brother, her niece. She’s very responsible and pursuing a secure and promising career, but she’s only 20 and has her life ahead of her. I certainly do not want to burden her when she has so much to look forward to.

Sometimes the caregiver's days never seem to end.
Presently, in my own family, my mom is a caregiver to my stepdad who has dementia. Jerry has been bedridden for three years, all of which have been in his home. Even though sitters and family members help, my mom is the primary caregiver. Jerry is 86 and my mom is 81. Even though my mom is in great health, the stress and sometimes lack of sleep get the best of her.

Today, most of the caregivers in the US are elderly people taking care of elderly people, just like my mom and stepdad. Of those caring for someone aged 65+, the average age is 63 years with one third of these caregivers in fair to poor health, according to the Administration on Aging. Those aging caregivers are putting in almost as many hours as a full-time job requires. After working many years in order to enjoy retirement, their retirement is another full-time job caring for someone they love.
Number of Hours Dedicated to Caregiving by Age of Family Caregiver
[Graph Data: Partnership for Solutions, Chronic Conditions: Making the Case for Ongoing Care. Johns Hopkins, University, Baltimore, MD. (2004).] - Updated: November 2012

Finances are always a consideration when caring for a loved one. How does someone plan for all the costs? I don't believe a person can, unless he's super wealthy. Sitters, even untrained ones, cost at least $10 per hour. An elderly person on a budget simply can't afford to pay for many hours of support.

The stress associated with being a caregiver is overwhelming. They have to schedule sitters, prepare meals, shop, make appointments, handle finances, and most of all, worry that they are doing everything correctly. Even though he/she may care deeply for the ailing person, the stress eventually takes its toll. If the person being cared for has a terminal illness, the stress is intensified. Hopefully, a local hospice organization will help the sick person manage his pain, but they will also help the family understand what is happening, even after their loved one is gone.

No matter how much we love someone, having to constantly care for another person is an enormous responsibility. Even though we hope we won't need anyone to help us, there's always that possibility. It's a worry I have as I age, but one that I hope my mom doesn't have. She is my example of a patient caregiver. I will be her Florence Nightingale.

Who will take care of you?