Holly Glen Gearhart
Those of us over the age of 50, part of what has been termed the “Silver Tsunami” of retiring boomers, hear a lot about estate planning, leaving a legacy to charity or making “final arrangements.” What we don’t hear much about is who is going to take care of us when we can no longer do it all ourselves.
No one wants to think about becoming dependent on others for help but the stats are in, and whether we like it or not, we are going to need help. Things as seemingly mundane as personal care, writing checks to pay our bills, grocery shopping or getting to medical appointments are not going to get easier, the older we get.
For some, age has nothing to do with needing care. The need for a caregiver can begin at any age. When the time comes, it comes in an instant – any one of us can find ourselves needing help as the result of an accident or illness. Long-term care is often provided at the person’s home by unpaid caregivers such as family members or friends.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), a non-profit coalition of national organizations focusing on family caregiving issues, “Most of these caregivers are caring for someone age 50 and older, and many caregivers are older adults themselves. The average caregiver provides 20-25 hours of assistance per week.”
In addition, the caregiver’s quality of life may begin to suffer; many become so involved with the care of another that their own health begins to fail, and depression and grief are common among those who care for a family member or friend.
Richard Schulz, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, states,“Family caregivers are pretty heroic in terms of what they do, but the way we’ve fashioned long-term care is that we wear caregivers out and then put the care recipient into a nursing home when the caregiver becomes exhausted and can’t take another step.”
Janet Collins, PhD, Director of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes that, “Our awareness of caregiving as a critical public health issue is growing, especially as the U.S. population continues to age and as dementia-associated health, economic, and societal challenges become even more pronounced.”
The grief and stress endured by well-meaning family members and friends has brought concern for the health and well-being of the caregiver into the national spotlight. In the past the emphasis has been on providing emotional and social support for the caregiver. Now, the more expanded concerns include finding them help in forms of group support, structured time off and psychological counseling.
As this need grows it becomes a matter of public health. There is need to turn to the public health system to find support specifically designed to deal with caregiver stress. This is not a great thought, is it? But it is something we need to think about before we cannot speak for ourselves. It is time to open this dialog.