You Might Be a Caregiver Even If You Don’t Call Yourself One

Scenario A: Bob and Louise have been married for 52 years. About a year ago, Louise began showing signs of memory loss and started having trouble keeping up with the household chores she had performed throughout their marriage. Bob gradually took over these chores while continuing to pay bills and care for their large yard as he had always done. Most recently, Bob started helping Louise with more personal care, such as bathing and dressing. When their children visited last month, they commented on how tired Bob seemed and suggested bringing in some outside help. Bob refused. “I’m just doing what any devoted spouse would do,” he said.

Scenario B: Sam and Patty Miller have always considered their neighbor, Mr. Davis, a friend and grandfather figure to their child, Marissa. Within the last few years, however, they’ve found themselves spending more and more time with Mr. Davis after his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. He lives alone and has no family nearby, which makes the Millers worry about his safety and well-being. Last week, Mr. Davis fell right before the Millers were about to drive to Marissa’s school to see her perform in a play. They decided that Sam would stay back with Mr. Davis until help arrived. Marissa was upset that her father didn’t see her perform and asked if her parents were now looking after Mr. Davis. “No,” Sam replied, “we’re just being good neighbors.”

Scenario C: Susie has a stressful job at an advertising company in Northern California, but the bulk of her stress comes from another place. Her mother, who lives in Chicago, had a stroke two years ago which created both cognitive and physical difficulties. She still lives alone but needs significant help to do so. As her only daughter, Susie spends most of her time outside of work (and much of her time during work) coordinating her mother’s care from almost 2000 miles away. It’s starting to affect her job performance, and she recently was prescribed medication for high blood pressure. When a co-worker asked if she could do anything to help, Susie replied, “What I really need is to be able to clone myself so I could be my mom’s caregiver.”

The Web site of the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov).

Bob, Sam, Patty, and Susie have two things in common. First, they are all caregivers. Second, they don’t think of themselves as caregivers. This is a dangerous combination, because it increases the risk for caregiver burnout.

Are you a caregiver? You may be, even if you don’t identify yourself as one. If you provide any kind of assistance to a family member, neighbor, or friend that affects your schedule, your physical or emotional health, or your relationships, guess what? You’re a caregiver. And that’s okay.

You might feel resistant to call yourself a caregiver. Some think it’s a sign of weakness, because you’ve heard about services and programs for caregivers who can’t do it by themselves and by God, you don’t need anyone’s help, right?

For others, it’s frightening. Acknowledging that you’re a caregiver means you have just formally claimed responsibility for someone else, and crap, what if something goes wrong?

It’s also frightening for some because it’s seen as a portent of what’s ahead for you and the person receiving your care. People, by nature, don’t want to take a step that they think may incite a tumble down a slippery slope. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Calling life like it is can be delightfully freeing. Saying, “I’m a caregiver,” immediately opens you up to a world of support, information, tools, resources, and experiences. All too many caregivers deprive themselves of these things in the name of rugged individualism. Self-reliance certainly has its place in the world, but the realm of caregiving is not one of them.

No caregiver should have to do this job alone. That’s why this blog is here. So, I’ll ask you again:

Are you a caregiver?

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