BY ALLISON BROWN
If you care for someone you are called an informal caregiver. Those who get paid for caregiving as a result of working for a healthcare provider are called formal caregivers. This article will focus on informal caregivers.
Whether out of love, respect, loyalty and/or duty many people care for loved ones who either can no longer care for themselves or who have increased challenges caring for themselves. The term used for those caring for aging parents while taking care of their immediate family is called the sandwich generation. Many elderly people are living much longer with the advent of medical technology and medicines and thus the numbers of people in the sandwich generation is growing.
It is a privilege and an honor to care for those that sacrificed their lives for us. It is also a call to take care of those who are vulnerable in society. The decision to take care of our elderly parents is one that should include the entire family. A spouse may decide to take in an elderly family member, but that independent decision will impact the entire family. What I am proposing is that all the immediate family members need to be consulted and opinions expressed. What happens when you move someone into your home that has challenges; is that it changes the dynamics of the entire home and can create many challenges for the family. It is ok to feel resentment, hurt and anger when one is not consulted in the process. It is important for the spouse who brings an elderly parent into the home to have open lines of communication, check in with family members to see how things are going from time to time, be open, honest and transparent with the members of the household, acknowledge the efforts family members are making to accommodate the new addition to the immediate family. Decisions built on a foundation of respect for spouse and children will make the experience go a lot better. It is so important to talk about short-term and long-term plans, finances and legal aspects of caregiving. For example, what if something happens to the spouse that brings in the elderly parent what are the legal ramifications around decision making and finances for the care of the person, etc.?
Caregivers work tirelessly and help those in their care navigate an often-precarious healthcare system. It is so important that caregivers recognize that it is ok for them to take a break. Sometimes when one is taking care of others they begin to experience the signs of burnout and are unable to recognize it in themselves. It is often other family members or friends who recognize that the caregiver is short tempered, exhausted, lacks focus, angry, frustrated, sad, trapped, not being able to get out to activities and lacks sleep.
Acknowledging burnout is NOT a weakness, it is strength. Caregivers are only good to those they care for when they are first good to themselves. Life challenges us to do things we have never had to do before; it is ok to say “I cannot do this anymore”. It is ok to get help by accessing family friends and other resources. It takes a village to raise a child equally it takes a village to care for our ageing parents.
Caregivers, you all do amazing jobs; you are the unacknowledged heroes and heroines of our day. Stop the silence and raise your voices if you need help. Without your support the healthcare system would be inundated with much sicker people entering the healthcare system but because you care for those in your care by ensuring they are cared for you are directly impacting the healthcare system on their behalf. So, on behalf of all those in your care; thank you for all that you do. This article is dedicated to Carol Montoutes and Karlene Stewart.