Helping to care for someone, whether they are young or old, is a time to step up to the plate and show how much that person means to you and many times it also turns out to be a time of personal growth.
I have taken care of lots of babies and toddlers and I have also taken care of elderly relatives. Until you do it, you really don't realize how much time and energy it takes to properly care for another person.
For me it is instinctive. I see the need and I want to help. There are few things in life that can make you feel as good as when you help someone else just because you love them, not because you are getting paid. As my generation of baby boomers ages and my parents generation lives longer than the previous one, millions of Americans today find themselves providing unpaid care to an elderly person or young child.
To be a healthy caregiver, you must also make yourself a priority because extensive caregiving is harder than you think. If you don't take care of yourself than you really aren't in good shape to take of another person. You can easily burnout if you let it become all encompassing. It can be a physical and psychological drain on a person's resources. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of flexibility. Caregiving can be isolating and we need all the resources we can find.
The Washington Post recently ran a special section on March 5 about the demands and rewards of caregiving and I thought it would be helpful to share some of the excerpts from it:
Troubleshooting, and tailoring how you help
By Rosalynn Carter
Former First Lady
There are four kinds of people in the world: those who are currently caregivers, those who have been caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.
There are going to be many, many more older people. We are living longer. There's the baby boomers. There's also the veterans coming home with physical problems, mental problems, PTSD, traumatic brain disorders. Somebody's going to have to take care of them. There's a dearth of geriatric professionals and those who know how to care for people with mental illness. There's going to be a greater need for them.
We (care experts from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving) go into the home of a family. We ask them to name five problems they have and then we work through the problems.
For instance, there was one woman whose husband had Alzheimer's. He wouldn't go into the bathroom. But he loved plants. And so when our trainer, our care coach, was working with him, one day they decided to put a plant in the bathroom. And he went in and watered it. Now he goes in and gets in the tub. He takes a bath and goes to the bathroom.
You have to tailor how you help.
The elderly don't want to be a problem
By Alene Moris
Women's Rights Leader
Right now, we see the elderly as a problem. Why don't we look at the elderly as a resource? We want to help. We don't want to just be trying to keep ourselves busy. I hate that. There are important things to do in life and we need to be able to continue being useful. I'm a great believer in being useful.
We've got all these healthy "young old" people who go into retirement from 60 to 75 (years old) -- and what do they do with themselves? They want something meaningful to do. I think we need to look at ways in which they go into caregiving. They understand it. They're close to it. They see it. They know that they're going to be there.
By Monica W. Parker
Assistant professor, Department of Medicine, Emory University
Many people who are working can't afford $17 an hour for a caregiver for eight hours a day. If you're too rich to be poor -- and too poor to be rich -- you're in a no man's land. You can't get somebody to come to your house to take care of you or assist you. Maybe there isn't an adult day-care program near you. There needs to be more services available for working families to help them care for retired workers.
There's a growing acknowledgement that many of us are caring for our relatives and we do need assistance. It's affecting everybody. The people I come in contact with feel a lot better when they know where to go for help.