When Elaine and Tommy were married, they vowed “in sickness and health” — a promise that over a decade later would require a lifesaving addition to their matching wedding bands. Elaine shares their story:
Respite is one of the most pressing needs of families and friends who take on a caregiving role. The need for caregiver supportive services — including respite care — is only going to rise as the U.S. population ages.
Like so many other family caregivers, I often place my own care on the back burner because I’m focused on the immediate needs of those I’m caring for. But that self-neglect eventually catches up with me — sometimes dramatically. I share one eye-opening experience in my new book, Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. An excerpt:
As National Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’d like to share the story of my friend Audrey — a woman whose compassion, perseverance, strength and resilience certainly merit an honorable mention in the Women’s Hall of Fame. I met Audrey more than 30 years ago, when she was preparing to leave her own home to move in to care for her father. Like millions of American women do every day, she balanced working full time with family caregiving. What makes Audrey’s story remarkable to me is the number of times in her life that she has given of herself to care for others.
As I drove from Billings, Mont., to Sheridan, Wyo., I saw a sign for "Buffalo 36 miles." Then it occurred to me that something felt strangely familiar. I grew up in a town called Lockport, about 29 miles from Buffalo, N.Y. So I researched a bit more. Sheridan has a population of 17,800; 20,000 live in Lockport. Sheridan gets about 72 inches of snow a year; Lockport posts a competitive 69 inches. And though my hometown doesn't have mountain ranges, it does share the same challenge — how to support family caregivers.
“I'm so tired, even my health has gone down due to stress. I love my mom ... but with my health issues, all I do is cry alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, can’t breathe ... nothing seems OK.” —Ruby
As I cared for my parents, helping them to live independently at home as they aged, I learned to listen to the learnings of other family caregivers. Recently, I shared 5 Tips for Caregivers and asked others for their views on our @ AARPAdvocates Facebook page. The comments from fellow caregivers came flooding in. While I wish I could share them all, here are 10 tips from caregivers to caregivers:
Every day for eight years, my Pop provided hands-on care for my mom, who faced a number of physical challenges. At age 90, Pop was still helping Mom out of bed into her wheelchair, bathing and dressing her, making the meals, and doing the dishes, laundry and anything else that needed to be done. A few times a week, Pop would get out of the house for a trip to the grocery store and a few staples like bread, milk and eggs. It wasn't that there was always a need, but Pop would drive to and from the store for a change of scenery - and a much-needed break from his 24/7 caregiving responsibilities.
A colleague recently cautioned me about using the term "respite" because she thought people wouldn't know its meaning. I found this ironic, because I actually believe it's more likely that most of us don't know how it feels rather than what it means in terms of getting a break from caring for family and friends. We rarely get to experience time completely away from the responsibility and stress of caregiving.
You know those New Year's Resolutions we make? To be kinder, break a bad habit, save money, stress less, travel more, lose weight, exercise, work harder? Is helping a family caregiver ever on your list?
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