Becoming a caregiver can be overwhelming, especially when it happens suddenly and you are not fully prepared to embark on, unbeknownst to you, your caregiver journey. It can be like becoming a new parent. You are now responsible for ensuring that your loved one gets the best care and advice. You hear other people’s stories of how they did it, read lots of how-to manuals, attend workshops and seminars, but you truly don’t know until you experience it.
In preparing Mom’s medication, my 90-year-old Pop would fill a syringe using the light of the kitchen window to see if the dosage was correct. He set up the nebulizer on a table with handwritten step-by-step instructions to remind him how to operate it. Today, millions of family caregivers like Pop perform complex medical tasks that at one time would have been administered only by medical professionals.
Across the country, about 40 million Americans are doing an overwhelming, stressful and exhausting unpaid job every day. They cook meals, drive to appointments, manage medication, perform complex medical tasks and more. They help parents, spouses and other loved ones live independently at home — where they want to be. They are family caregivers.
As many family caregivers know, getting our parents, spouses or other loved ones from one place to another can sometimes be a challenge, especially if they have impaired mobility. When I was caring for my parents, taking Mom — who was confined to a wheelchair — to see the doctor was an all-day ordeal, even though his office was only a short distance away. We had to wait for the special transport van to come, wait at the doctor’s, and then wait again to get home, all for what was often a five-minute appointment to tweak the dose of a medication.
As I flew into Biloxi, the storm clouds parted and a rainbow appeared. Maybe it was a sign that good things are ahead for Mississippi family caregivers and the parents, spouses and other loved ones they care for.
When I tell people I’m caring for my 91-year-old dad who has Alzheimer’s disease, they look at me sympathetically and say, “I don’t know how you do it.” When they learn that I also cared for my grandmother when she had Alzheimer’s, they gingerly ask, “Are you afraid of getting it yourself?”
This year I had the honor of meeting Kyllian, a young New Jerseyan who, as a teenager, was a caregiver for her father. Throughout his battle with cancer, she would come home after high school every day to care for him.
En español | This Labor Day, I want to take a moment to recognize the 40 million Americans who perform a great labor of love every day caring for older parents, spouses and other loved ones. While they wouldn’t have it any other way, family caregivers often have a big job. Some are on call 24-7 and often they can’t even take a break.
“Believe you can and you are halfway there.” While at the North Dakota State House fighting for family caregivers last week, I thought of these inspiring words by President Teddy Roosevelt. I believe we can, state by state, bring commonsense solutions and support to family caregivers. These unsung heroes give their hearts every day caring for older parents, spouses and other loved ones — and it’s time we gave them more help with the challenges they encounter:
Every day we hear from family caregivers like Marcus, Tish and Iris about the challenges they face helping their older loved ones remain at home — where they want to be.
Let me start by saying, thank you State Sen. Debbie Smith (Nev.) for your leadership, courage and determination to fight for family caregivers and the older parents, spouses and other loved ones they help to remain in their homes.