Friday, March 12, 2010

Caregivers don’t need to go it alone.

Some days you know that you should just sit down and shut up, because someone else is able to express exactly what you’re thinking, but in a much clearer way.

That’s how I felt today when I came across Jonathan Rauch’s article, Letting Go of My Father, in April’s online edition of the Atlantic magazine

Rauch shares his belief that family caregiving is much the same today as the experience of women was in the 60s and 70s. Certain expectations were placed on women to stay home and care for house and family, and to be happy doing it. Men – husbands – were free to work, come home and read the paper, waiting for that pre-dinner martini to be delivered with a smile.

The reality was that many women felt isolated in the modern single-family home. Many felt bored while their kids were at school most of the day. Many simply felt trapped.

It wasn’t until some women began daring to say, “We can do more” that other women became empowered to make choices that worked better for them and for their families.

Today, family caregiving is much the same way. Caregivers report a higher rate of depression and stress than non-caregiving adults. They report challenges staying on top of their job requirements, costing employers billions of dollars ($13.4 billion annually, at last count) each year in additional health care costs, not to mention the cost in lost productivity.

And yet we are only just now beginning to share our stories; to bring the tasks of family caregiving out of the dark and into the light of dinner parties and cocktail hours; of support networks and resource communities.

Rausch shares his frustration that the culture of caregiving in this country keeps the individual family caregiver in isolation and in the dark about resources that may be readily available.

He talks about the importance of learning more, as family caregivers, about tools, techniques and resources. In that, I can add my wholehearted support, as I see, every day, family caregivers who report that caregiver training classes [link to IPCed PCA main page] “saved my life” by providing them information they needed to keep doing what they chose to do – be a caregiver.

In the end, Raush says,

“There should be no need for anyone to go through this alone, and no glory in trying.”

To which I simply say, AMEN!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Caregiving concerns are ultimately personal concerns

Every 8 seconds another baby boomer turns 50 in America.

Having completed that right of passage myself, it’s not all that painful. After all, 50 is the new 30, right? Just look at all the trends we boomers are bringing to this ripe, middle-age time in life – “cougaring” (the older woman/younger man romance); the increase in marijuana usage in older adults (directly attributed to the aging baby boomer/stoner phenomena), the growth of new businesses started by us “mature” adults, to name just a few examples.

Here’s a more sobering fact: one in three of us “over-50s” will be thrust into caregiving tasks for a parent or spouse, often with no more warning than the ringing of the phone.

We’re pretty well prepared to carry on most of our other aging baby boomer roles, but are we ready for this one?

Do we know what we would want to do, much less what our parents want us to do for them? Will we bring them home to our house if they need care, or will we insist they move to a care facility? Are we prepared to step back into daily communication and decision-making with our siblings, many of whom we no longer share much in common?

Just listen in to the conversations around you next time you’re at a gathering of people in this age group. You’ll hear snippets like these (I’m paraphrasing from a recent gathering I attended):

“My wife’s mom died last summer; we’re still reeling from all of the tasks we need to do for her estate. We never realized what a job this would be. We haven’t been able to travel at all this year.”

“My parents are driving me nuts. I worry about them every day, and they simply refuse to leave their home. Anyone know how on earth I can talk them into moving into an assisted living community?”

“My dad finally agreed to move into a retirement center a couple of months ago. I feel like I have my life back!”

“Margie’s mom is in a hospital bed in our living room. That consumes us physically, emotionally and in every other way. We explored other options, but Margie says, ‘She’s my mom – I need to care for her.’ The whole family, though, is involved; not just Margie. It’s incredibly difficult right now.”

There’s a certain awareness of this impending, life-changing dynamic within many governmental and political circles. Businesses and publications are picking up on the boomer-turning-senior phenomenon.

But, as is typically for us self-focused boomers, we are finding it difficult to prepare on a personal level.

Talking to mom and dad about the future? It’s a tough conversation; I think I’ll wait a bit longer.

Talking to the siblings about planning ahead? We can barely talk about whose turn it is to host Christmas this year, let alone about what we’d do if something happened to mom or dad.

And while we’re delaying these important discussions, the day is looming closer when the phone will ring…and it suddenly becomes personal.