Health Column: Where are you on the caregiver map?

By Edward Harper
Blount Memorial Hospital

One-quarter of Americans do it every day and night - give care to another adult. Most who do it don’t consider what they’re doing as caregiving. Instead, it’s "what families do." Today, when families are together, it’s a good time to remember that the mission of a family is to provide for the protection, nurture and prosperity of all members.

Whether the family has a challenge with the adult-child to adult-parent relationship or the family’s situation is unstrained, the lifecycle stage of family caring comes from the family’s sense of aid versus obligation. Either way, the caregiving journey begins with a road map.

First, the reality of caregiving challenges the nobility of the mission. Caregivers have an expectation they will be successful in providing care that meets the needs of the family member as well as fulfills the promises they made, such as, "to keep the person at home." While caregivers work to preserve the dignity and safety of the people they’re caring for, challenges of learning new skills and maintaining a dedication of time and energy -- even at the expense of relationships with spouses, children and grandchildren -- are harder to meet.

The second stop is understanding caregiving. While many think it’s a person giving day-to-day care in the home or monitoring a long-term stay at a skilled nursing facility, in reality, it’s more like "taking care of business." It’s usually an adult female child who’s 45-65 years old, employed, and who makes arrangements for services, appointments and provisions of an older family member through phone calls, usually while at work. It’s not always done for a parent, but also, parents-in-law or grandparents.

The time and energy spent doing tasks such as these is as intense as day-to-day home care, and most people aren’t aware of how taxing this can be, especially when many who do it describe themselves only as "helping out."

At the third stop, the physical, mental and spiritual impact of caregiving stress comes to light. The caregiver’s health often begins to erode dramatically over any two-year period of intense caregiving. Research results show that caregivers who have or develop chronic health problems often stand a significant chance of not living through the experience, or find themselves also needing care. We know this because we’ve seen the casualties.

But, the map shows a crossroad before stop three, and that’s Blount Memorial Senior Services. The hospital is proactive in caregiver health, and offers help free to caregivers. Caregiver services are available for adults taking care of adults, without regard to age or degree of care. It’s accessible, along with other countywide caregiver-related services, at 865-977-5744.

And, while not all family members think they can help provide care because they live in a different area or have no flexibility in the job duties and day-to-day routines, there is something that can be done. Because caregiving usually falls to one or two family members, help those family members who are providing care find the bump in the road map that leads them to assistance within the community.

Edward Harper is a licensed clinical social worker and is the Senior Services coordinator at Blount Memorial Hospital. The Senior Services program is caregiver-based and provides free assistance to the community through caregiver consultations, educational seminars and support groups.

© 2006 blounttoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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