A recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that 44.4 million Americans age 18 or older are providing unpaid care to an adult. 89% of these caregivers are helping relatives. I was recently talking to a married woman probably in her early sixties who had taken care of her terminally ill elderly father, then her elderly widowed mother and was now taking care of her sister with cancer who lived in a different state!
The typical caregiver is a 46-year-old Baby Boomer woman with some college education who works and spends more than 20 hours per week caring for her mother who lives nearby.
Caregivers fulfill multiple roles. 62% are married. 74% work while managing caregiving responsibilities at the same time. This can lead to stress and conflicts. One woman was telling me about the neglect she felt from her husband who had the responsibility of taking care of his elderly parents. He had to balance his marriage with respect for his parents derived from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, had brought him into the world and enabled him to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace. (cf. CCC 2215) "With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?" (Sir. 7:27-28)
It is not surprising that caregivers say that their most unmet needs are finding time for themselves (35%), managing emotional and physical stress (29%), and balancing work and family responsibilities (29%). About 1/3rd of caregivers feel they need help keeping the person they care for safe. And 1/5th of caregivers need help talking with doctors and other healthcare professionals. All of this can definitely lead to a stressed caregiver. Constant stress can lead to "burnout" and health problems for the caregiver.
Some signs of this to watch out for are:
·Inability to concentrate
·Thoughts of harm to self or others
Oftentimes, a little help around the house or a break from caregiving is all that's needed to keep stress at manageable levels. Caregivers often need help caring for an elderly or disabled person. Sometimes family members, friends or neighbors are able to help. If you know of someone in this situation, consider lending a hand. Many caregivers do most or all of the caregiving alone. If you are one of them, you may need to look into the Eldercare Locator (eldercare.gov, 800-677-1116) or their local Diocesan Catholic Charities office (catholiccharitiesusa.org) for help to get a break.
When dealing with elderly parents things can get complicated. I remember one elderly woman telling me she stayed in her room all day at her sons house because she didnt want to "get in the way." On the other hand, some elderly parents cant help parenting their adult child, his or her family members, etc. leading to conflict. And parents are used to being parents. It is hard for some of them to take advice or care from their now adult children. Then there is the struggle for the elderly parent to maintain some independence while becoming more and more dependent on others. Then there is the loneliness and isolation that an elder parent can feel not being able to participate in many activities and therefore being left alone.
Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to St. John the Apostle. "Standing by the Cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son. Then he said to the disciple, Behold, your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (Jn. 19: 25-27) He certainly thought that caregiving, especially of ones parents, is important. Important enough that one of His twelve apostles was entrusted with the task. Perhaps caregivers should turn to St. John the Apostles intercession for them as they strive to do their best in this most important act of charity.
Brother John Raymond, co-founder of The Community of The Monks of Adoration, received his M.A. in theology from Holy Apostles Seminary.