Do we always get along? Hell, no! That’s what I wrote in a recent article that’s now featured on The Shriver Report.org. (http://shriverreport.org/mothering-mother-caregiving-dementia-carol-odell/) People tend to romanticize caregiving–people who aren’t in it, or who haven’t been in it for very long. It’s the difference in making a movie such as Black Hawk Down compared to actually being in a real time war–bullets, IED’s and raining shrapnel down on your head. Caregiving days aren’t filled with marshmallows and clouds (all fluff). While there are tender moments when you can hear the angels sing, when you and your loved one have a very real and touching moment–these are rare because face it–relationships are, for the most part, messy.
Caregiving is part one part grit and two parts guts, and if you’ve always had issues with confrontation, then guess what? Here’s your own personal scavenger hunt because you will confront everybody from your sister who doesn’t want to pitch in–time or money-wise, to the home health aide who grabs your mom’s arm just a little too rough, and onto the CNA who whams your mother’s leg into a metal part of the underside of the bed and cuts her leg on the day of her discharge…and then tells you that you’ll have to go back to the ER (with its two hour wait and enough flu germs to warrant a quarantine) in order to see if her leg is broke (that really happened to a mother of a friend of mine).
Women are still, the primary family caregiver. Not that there aren’t amazing men out there–spouses, sons, brothers who are stepping up and never thought to do anything other than care for their loved ones. I get to meet these guys and let me tell you, they’re sexy. Nothing is more attractive than a good man who has integrity and heart, and I ought to know a thing or two about this because I happened to be married to one. Still, when it comes to sheer numbers, women take on the brunt of the caregiving experience. They’re single, divorced, dealing with their own health issues, or depression, working, raising kids and grandkids, and on top of all that–they’re caring for a parent, and sometimes two.
Stats on Women as Caregivers from the Family Caregiver Alliance/National Center on Caregiving:
Estimates of the percentage of family or informal caregivers who are women range from 59% to 75%.6, 7
The average caregiver is age 46, female, married and working outside the home earning an annual income of $35,000.8
Although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.9
When I said, “Hell yes, to caring for my mom,” I didn’t mean that caregivers have to go it alone–nor should they. Caregiving is a team sport. You simply CAN’T meet all of your loved one’s needs. You can’t. They need to be surrounded by a community. You can’t begin to meet their physical and relationship needs, and in fact, you do a great disservice to you both by not opening up your heart and our home to others. Sometimes it’s simply because it’s a bruise to our ego to admit we can’t do it all, and other times we don’t even know where to begin to ask for help. It’s also true that you or your loved one may not find a good fit right away. Whether you call a local church and ask for a volunteer, call your local senior center or your local/regional Council on Aging to find out what resources are available, the key is to not give up.
Caring for my mom would eventually include my family–husband, daughters, her friends (one who graciously came down so that my family could slip away for a weekend), relatives who called and offered prayers and encouragement, home health aides, and eventually the good folks (chaplin, nurse, home care aides, coordinator, etc.) at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida. It took all of us–and it gave us purpose and a common connection. Saying “Yes” to caregiving also means saying “Yes” to the circle of care you and your loved one needs.
The Shriver Report.org. The Shriver Report.org is launching a site for women, by women (mostly) talking about subjects that matter–to us.