Are You A Caregiver? Read On Before Answering That Question
If you are a middle-aged adult, chances are good that you have at least one living parent if not both. The lengthening life span, improved medical treatments and better lifestyle choices make the 85 + year-old demographic the fastest growing part of our population.
But, that longer life span comes with some additional challenges for both the older parent and the adult child. The most obvious challenge is that a longer life span means many adult children will eventually find themselves in the role of caregiver.
Are you a caregiver?
This may seem like an easy question but it's not. Here's a brief story to help you decide.
Alice is 51 years old, married and works full-time as an executive assistant. She lost her father to cancer five years ago. Her mother is 78 years of age and lives alone. Alice lives just three miles from her mother in her own home with her husband and two teenage sons. Alice's mother can drive short distances, fix her own meals and is cognitively alert. Alice stops by her mother's home most every day after work to check on her. At least a few times a week she picks up groceries, prescriptions, or household goods to save her mom the trip to the store. Once or twice a month she takes a half-day of vacation to drive her mother to a doctor's appointment. On weekends, Alice's husband usually mows the grass and does a few household chores for Alice's mom. Though her mom is financially stable, Alice and her husband often buy the groceries, prescriptions and other household goods without asking for reimbursement.
So, are Alice and her husband caregivers?
Most people would say they are not. Why? Because Alice's mom is able to live alone and seems relatively self-sufficient.
But the correct answer is that Alice and her husband ARE caregivers. Here's why:
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is anyone who provides physical, emotional or financial support to a loved one on a consistent basis. That includes Alice and millions of other adult children who classify their assistance as merely "helping" their aging parent. They are helping, of course, but they are doing more than helping; they are providing ongoing care.
The big misconception here is that most people think being a caregiver means that the care receiver is completely dependent on the caregiver(s). In order to change this mentality you have to think of caregiving in degrees of care and not an all-or-nothing situation.
The importance of self-identifying as caregiver
At this point, some might say I'm making too big a deal over the terminology. But there is good research that says adult children who self-identify as caregivers do a much better job at caring for their ill and aging parents.
When a person self-identifies as a caregiver, they are:
- More proactive in the type of care they provide to their loved one. The National Family Caregivers Association found that over 90% of family caregivers took a more proactive role when they self-identified as caregivers versus just "helping."
- More confident in their ability to discuss health-related issues with their loved one's healthcare team. More than 80% of family caregiver who self-identify as caregivers had more confidence in talking with their parent's health providers about their condition. This led to attending more doctor appointments, doing outside reading, asking pointed questions and feeling involved in their parent's health care plan.
- Much more likely to look for and utilize the available resources within the family or in the local or larger community. Self-identifying caregivers more readily tap into local and national resources that could benefit their loved one.
- More concerned about the moral implications of the type of care they provide. In other words, they make extra efforts to ensure that their loved one gets the best care available.
Another self-identifying question
If your parent ends up needing care in a nursing facility where they have round the clock assistance, what happens to your role as caregiver? The answer: you continue to be a caregiver. You simply modify your role. Instead of providing most or all of the hands-on care, you now are in more of a supervisory role by your presence. If you think of yourself as a caregiver even when your loved one is in a nursing facility you will be more proactive to ensure they get the best care. For example, you will make a point to get to know the staff, be involved in your loved one's care decisions and look for resources in and out of the facility that could benefit them.
Caregiving is hard work. But, there is also great satisfaction in knowing that you are doing all you can to provide competent care for your parent. The starting point for that competent care is first being willing to call yourself a caregiver and from there the whole landscape before you begins to take on a new perspective.