By Roberto Muñiz
Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
It happens in varying capacities, but we all care for and “live” for others during our lifetime. In fact, in some cases we anticipate and look forward to the opportunity because we know the personal reward that can be associated with it. Take parenting for example: we expect to take care of our children when becoming a parent. At first, it seems daunting and demanding, but years later, most parents would say they wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The role of caregiver to an aging or sick parent or spouse, however, is not something we typically plan for. Yet it’s a role that over 30 million Americans have taken on in the last year.
They are the unsung heroes: whether it’s providing direct care for their loved one, taking over the responsibilities of making doctors’ appointments, paying the bills, or ensuring their loved one gets the attention they need, they’re always providing the maximum effort while still trying to save every shred of their loved one’s dignity. If they are caring for a spouse, they may be an elder themselves and neglecting their own needs. They make sacrifices that no one else may ever know.
Those who are young caregivers to aging or sick parents may be working long hours themselves, maybe pursuing a career and/or raising a family. These caregivers often miss out on moments of their own lives such as dating and starting a family, pursuing a dream career or taking those dream vacations, all because they are caregiving. Caregiving is not just physically taxing but it could be mentally exhausting.
A recent study conducted by Atlantic Health System and United Way found that the rate of severe depression more than doubles when comparing caregivers to the general public. In fact, that same report shows one in five caregivers (19.5) percent have showed moderate to severe depression, compared to just under 7 percent of the general U.S. population.
At Parker, we care about caregivers. Their decisions are often difficult and extremely stressful. Very often they, incorrectly, feel they are alone. Each month we host several free caregiver support groups at our Highland Park and Monroe Adult Day Centers. This month, on Saturday, April 13th, we will be hosting a free Caregiver Conference that will connect caregivers with valuable resources: professionals who can help them, ideas and tips, and legal and professional advice. I encourage you to share this event with anyone who can benefit from it.
Do you know someone who is a caregiver? You can help them with small gestures that go a long way. Self-care often goes out the window when someone becomes a caregiver and yet caring for yourself is crucial when you are required to care for others. Help a caregiver you know by offering to spend time with their loved one while they take time to themselves, offer to go grocery shopping or run errands, or support them with chores around the home such as cleaning for them.
Knowing you are not alone can make all the difference.
By Roberto Muñiz