A Growing National Crisis: the Family Caregiver

One of the most frequent statements I made to family caregivers when I was working in hospice was, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be around to take care of your loved one.” We saw all too often that once the ill spouse died, the surviving spouse frequently succumbed to illness or death themselves. It is often very difficult for caregivers to ask for and accept help, to delegate responsibilities that they feel are theirs alone to bear, and to feel that their needs are as important as their disabled spouse or child. Isolation and depression can sometimes lead to abuse or neglect because there is no respite from or outlet for the stress.

An article in New America Media highlights that “the rapidly aging population is on a collision course with dwindling family savings and startling rates of chronic disease and dementia. Once close-knit families are now spread across the country, as many older adults demand to stay in their homes as long as possible.” According to AARP’s 2012 report, “Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care,” middle-aged and elder family members are providing hands-on personal and complex medical care to relatives with significant physical and cognitive problems. This with very little help from health care and social service professionals as government programs are being slashed instead of expanded.

Organizations such as Area Agency on Aging, hospice programs and local senior centers provide referrals and assistance through support groups, adult day care, respite care and counseling to help alleviate stress and depression, but sometimes cost or convenience make it difficult for caregivers to take advantage of the programs. We need to do more as a society. We need more affordable resources and funding specific to family caregiver support, particularly in-home support.

 

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