By Micha Shalev
About 44 million people, roughly 19 percent of the U.S. adult population, provide unpaid care to someone who is age 50 or older. The average age of caregivers is 50 and the average age of care recipients is 77. Most caregivers assist family members, usually their mothers.
How do you define the term caregiver in less than a thousand words? One especially telling statistic: More than four in 10 caregivers said they felt as though they had no choice about whether to assume the role of caregiver.
Why it is so hard to ask for help? What’s a good response to the statement, “Call me if you need me”? Despite the fact that family caregivers are drowning in responsibility or are really confused about what the next step ought to be, they often respond “no thanks” when help is offered.
•Recognize that caregiving, like any job, is made up of lots of individual tasks, not all of which are of the same importance. Some tasks take a few minutes; some may take many hours. Some tasks are easy; others require some skill and fortitude. The challenge is to know the difference.
•Recognize that asking for help is a sign of strength and not of weakness. It means you truly have a grasp on your situation and have come up with a proactive problem-solving approach to making things easier and better.
•Create a list of the tasks that need to get done in any given week, or at least those you are most concerned about, such as balancing your responsibilities at work and taking mom or dad to the doctor and Susie to soccer practice. When you see how long the list is you’ll quickly understand why you are so tired and don’t have time for yourself.
•Group your tasks into categories such as personal care tasks for your loved one, transportation and household chores. You can group your tasks into only a few broad categories, or many specific ones. There’s no right or wrong way.
•Write down your caregiving worries. Where will we get the money to pay for Peter’s medications? Who will care for Mary if I get sick? Where can I find a daycare facility that provides transportation? Seeing worries in black-and-white helps diffuse some of the emotion. It also allows you to think more rationally about your concerns and understand how getting help with some of your tasks might lessen the stress.
It can provide the basis for deciding which tasks you might ask a neighbor, family member or religious institution to help out with, which you are willing and able to pay someone else to do and which there might be a public program for.
•Share your lists with someone you trust before you actually reach out for help — a friend, therapist professional care manager, or clergyman. The intent is to first get comfortable with idea of talking about your need for assistance and hopefully get some encouragement and good ideas in the process. Then take a deep breath and actually ask someone to help with one of the tasks on your list, or ask for guidance in resolving your most persistent worry. Start with something small, especially if you are looking for hands-on assistance or something that requires someone doing you a favor.
Micha Shalev MHA is the owner of Dodge Park Rest Home and the Adult Day Care at Dodge Park located at 101 Randolph Road in Worcester. He can be reached at 508-853-8180 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or view more information online at www.dodgepark.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.