February 21, 2020, is National Caregivers Day. The day was first celebrated in 2016 – already long overdue. Caregivers can be family members or friends, or they can be paid. Both types provide irreplaceable support to seniors and disabled people. Whether paid or not, the care they provide is well worth celebrating.
Family caregivers are heroes. They can be daughters, sons, nieces and nephews, or parents taking care of their disabled children. They are usually ready and happy to provide this care, but it is stressful. The stresses are emotional, physical, and often financial, and the demands are time-consuming. Often family caregivers forego income – they cut back on their jobs or reduce their hours so they have time to take care of their loved ones. Often they forego time with their families or friends. They do this willingly, because they love the people they are caring for and want the best for them.
Caregiving can be very sad for the family caregiver. It’s difficult to see your loved one experience physical or mental decline. Often the care provided is physically challenging as well. Helping a man, even a not-so-large man, in and out of bed, isn’t easy. And that’s often the least of the physical demands a loved one’s disability requires.
Mental and emotional challenges abound as well. If your loved one has dementia, from mild to severe, caring for them is hard. Answering the same question, for example, “Where are we going?” fifteen times in the course of a fifteen-minute ride to the doctor – and another fifteen times on the way home – can’t help but get old. And these types of conversations occur when your loved one is still pretty functional. Not everyone has the patience of a saint, and these caregivers are tested every time they provide care.
Caregiving requirements can also create stress within families. If one child is doing almost all of the work, and the others do little or nothing, it can cause anger and resentment. Sometimes the child who lives nearby provides care in a way that the far-away child doesn’t agree with.
In other instances, I’ve known daughters who provide all the care for their mothers, and still the mothers dote on their sons. Nevertheless, the daughters continue their loving care. Then there’s the bachelor son who lives with and cares for his parents (or his brother) his whole adult life, and I have a friend who visits his parents for dinner almost every day to make sure they’re safe and comfortable (and fed).
HOORAY FOR THEM! They may not feel like heroes – but they are.
Paid caregivers have a different set of stresses, but they are no less challenging. Whenever I see a paid caregiver, I think, “There goes an angel.” It is easier at least to recognize the unpaid help that family caregivers give. Paid caregivers often feel invisible, or are treated as invisible, despite all the challenging care they provide.
People who are still trying to be independent, but who need help, sometimes don’t want to acknowledge their caregiver – that way they can feel that they are still independent. Unfortunately, that ‘erases’ the caregiver – often, literally the one doing the heavy lifting. Sometimes visiting family members pay attention to their loved one, and overlook the caregiver. These situations can be demoralizing to the caregiver.
It’s true that these caregivers are being paid to provide care, but still they should be recognized, included, thanked and celebrated for their efforts.
Paid caregivers also normally work shifts of a minimum of four hours, and someone who receives care usually has an aide at least several times per week. When I visit my dad, after about 20 minutes of discussing the same four topics ten times apiece, including how he just can’t wait to die so he’ll be in heaven (really), I’m telling myself, “Yes, I have a full day of this in front of me, but don’t scream, it’s okay, I can only get here about once a month.”
Paid caregivers do this for hours at a time, day after day after day. They may be ignored, bossed around, yelled at, treated disrespectfully, or spend countless boring or stressful hours trapped in a home or walking endlessly up and down the streets. They do this with someone who can’t speak, feed him- or herself, get dressed or take a shower without help, and more. That is a hard job.
And since professional caregivers are paid help they are often treated as second-class citizens. The needs and desires of the person they are helping are always more important than their own needs. Sometimes they are treated with dignity and respect – but often they are not. And yet they continue to provide care. They truly are everyday angels.
HOORAY FOR THEM, TOO!
To all the paid and family caregivers out there – your job is vital, and your love and care are key components of the best possible quality of life you are helping to ensure for your client or your loved one. There is no way those people can thank you enough – but others also see you, they value you, and they are grateful for all that you do.
Thank you, caregivers. And to those reading this article, please thank the caregivers you encounter in your own lives.