Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Caregiving takes an emotional toll on the whole family

My friend Vickie came into my office today for a meeting. We had a chance to catch up after the meeting and I asked Vickie about her current work/family situation.

“I’m working as a caregiver for my father-in-law these days,” Vickie said. “He has late stage Parkinson’s disease and requires help with everything. We have a lift to get him in and out of bed; I’ve got to care for his catheter; it’s just a lot of work.”

I asked her how many hours each week she spent helping her mother-in-law, assuming that she traveled to their home for a few hours each day.

“That’s the hard part,” she said. “They live with us. The caregiving never ends – I can’t begin to count how many hours each week I work.”

She was excited to be out of the house for the meeting as it was just about the only break she could see on the horizon.

As I listened to Vickie I heard what I hear so often from family caregivers: the work is not only physically challenging, but emotionally draining as well.

It’s hard to be the “rock” that your family relies on. It’s exhausting, no matter how much help you get from other members of the family.

Vickie’s husband, mother-in-law, son and grandchildren are all involved in Grandpa’s care. But at the end of the day, the person they all turn to is the one with the experience and training as a caregiver – Vickie. And of course, Vickie being the person that she is, worries about them all even when she’s not there.

I don’t really have an answer or a solution. What I know is that family caregivers need our emotional support, maybe even more than they need help with actual caregiving tasks.

They need us to thank them for their work, to honor and validate their importance in our families’ lives, and the contribution they make to society as a whole.

It’s not much, but it might make a difference for Vickie and all those other caregiving family members just getting through another challenging week.

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