Many of you that have read my book, heard me speak, read these articles or hear my Memory Care Minutes on radio are aware that there are over 15 million informal or unpaid caregivers of those with dementia in this country. With that number in mind, ask yourself, how many of them were put on this earth to actually be caregivers? I lecture at The University of Rhode Island College of Nursing every semester and at each event I will ask the students how many of their friends or family have said to them, “I could never do that?” I have a friend that has donated over 16 gallons of blood. I have another that faints at the sight of needles. There are women that are such great mothers and men that are such great fathers that they should have ten children; there are also those men and women where, sadly, that’s not the case. The point is that even though they were never put on this earth to be caregivers, there they are, right at ground zero as caregivers of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
There’s always been a lot of talk about the “sandwich generation.” Those are the adults in the middle that are raising their children on one side and caring for their older loved one(s) on the other. If that’s as complicated as it gets you could say, it could be a lot worse. The truth? It often is. Unfortunately, in these times, the family dynamic has become a great deal more complicated. The mom that’s raising her children at home and responsible for her grandmother or Uncle may have a great deal more on her plate. Is she a single mom? Is her brother, the recovering alcoholic, living with her; her divorced sister or did her teen daughter decide to have a child at her convenience but at Mom’s expense? Sandwich Generation? More like Large Pizza with everything on it and the caregiver is the crust.
The National Alliance for Caregiving (www.caregiving.org) has clearly stated that caregiving at large is quickly becoming a societal issue and not an individual one. They go on to say that “unpaid family caregiving impacts, not just individuals, but family units, communities, States and the Nation.” In 2007, there were 4.9 million with Alzheimer’s in this country. In the year 2030, it’s projected to be 7.7 million. Unfortunately, The Alliance also tells us, “the number of healthcare workers in many eldercare professions is actually declining- at a time when their services are needed more than ever before. Not surprisingly, they also report that “eldercare is projected to be the fastest growing employment sector in healthcare.”
No, not everyone’s ministry in life is to be a caregiver. When we opened our first Memory Care Care Community I had an Aide ask me if she could work there, I said Yes. The next day another aide came into my office and asked, “you’re not going to make me work there are you?’ “No, Joyce, I’m not.” Healthcare is no different than any other vocation as there are different areas of it that appeal to different people. That’s why we have those that work in Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Radiology, Gynecology, Physical Therapy and so on.
If you’re one of those over 15 million informal caregivers, I have no idea whether it was your “calling” or not. Regardless, Tag! You’re it!. Take advantage of the many resources that are available to you. Learn to accept help, try to get your family engaged, even if he or she will never be a caregiver, have them run errands , take them to appointments, go grocery shopping or pick up the kids. It may be convenient for family members not to be engaged in direct caregiving but that doesn’t make it right. They can help and should help in other ways.
Questions? Email me at REPE@careforcaregivers.org. Join the Journey.