Who cares for the overwhelmed family member taking care of a frail relative?
Last Friday, President Obama proclaimed November National Family Caregivers Month, reminding Americans that “Every day, caregivers across our country lift up the lives of loved ones who need additional support.” This year, the theme for Family Caregivers Month is “Respite: Care for Caregivers.”
Caring for a frail family member calls upon your emotional strength, managerial abilities and financial resources. Respite – the chance to take a break, rest and re-energize, is essential. If you are taking care of a spouse, parent, or other loved one who is chronically ill, or who has a severe disability, Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it’s very important that you also find ways to take care of yourself – no easy task.
We believe that helping the family members who care for ICS members is one of the most important things we can do. We work hard to offer support and useful information for our members’ families and, this month, will introduce a respite policy for caregivers who participate in the daily care of ICS members. We are also launching a “Circle of Care Lounge,” in January a six-week support group for family caregivers of ICS members, facilitated by a trained group leader.
Circle of Care participants will share tips, ideas and challenges, while offering each other encouragement. At the final session caregivers will receive special gifts, raffle prizes and massages as a small way of showing our appreciation for the love and care they give our members every day.
It’s just what you do
The experience of being a family caregiver is in the news every day now because, as Paula Span, New Old Age editor for The New York Times, points out, we’re entering a demographic crisis when it comes to aging:
Everyone who thinks about the so-called work force problem for the elderly can see big trouble coming. Who’s going to provide care for the growing number of old people who, even with enormous efforts from family members, will most likely need more help? Or who don’t have families? And who prefer, overwhelmingly, to stay in their homes?
But while more attention is being paid than in the past, the stories family caregivers tell resonate with remarkable similarity across time. Regardless of age, relationship and other factors, family caregivers find themselves taking on responsibilities and tasks they never expected and could not have prepared for.
Twenty years ago, Beverly Kidd, a 50 year old Manhattan real estate agent, became the full-time caregiver for her husband, who was severely disabled by a stroke. Unable to continue at her job, she described a life of isolation and exhaustion in the midst of a crowded city. With only the family cat to talk to, Beverly said that getting out of bed at four am to sit in the kitchen, drink coffee, plow through medical bills and insurance forms while talking back to the radio was “the best part of her day.”
At six, her husband, Robert, who had been a professional actor, would wake up and Beverly would unhook his catheter, shower and shave him, and help him dress, a process that would take at least two hours as she insisted on making him do whatever he could: “struggle into a shirt, for example, although he can’t button it; pull on his shoes, although he can’t tie the laces,” believing that if he stopped being engaged, what was left of his life would wither away.
“Robert was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she told a reporter. “I was never the caretaker type. Whoever thinks you wind up doing this? It’s life as you live it, and that’s that. You marry a man, he gets sick, you take care of him. But sometimes I think I’m going nuts.”
Two decades later, Marie Tae McDermott, a 28 year-old news assistant living in Brooklyn, described the experience of becoming the caregiver for her mother, 63, when she received a stage four lung cancer diagnosis.
After moving her mother from Florida into the one-bedroom apartment she shared with her fiancé (now her husband) and two dogs, Marie said, “While some have envisioned that millennials would be caring for their ill and aging parents with the help of robots and wearable tech and apps, I took my cue from my mom, whose no questions asked, drop everything and go kind of hands-on care was modeled early for me, when I was a child and my grandfather suffered a debilitating series of strokes. In our family, being there is what we do. . . . I folded her needs into mine, and we quickly settled into a daily routine.
Those needs including learning to drain a catheter attached to the lining of her mother’s lung, as well as managing her mom’s medication and the five daily meals needed to keep up her weight.
“I never thought I would be a caregiver at my age,” Marie wrote, “But let’s face it, we usually don’t have a choice.”
For millions of Americans, that’s the bottom line. When it comes to taking care of a family member in need, we simply don’t have a choice. It’s what we do. At the same time, as Loreen Loonie wrote earlier this year, “One of the most important things to know is that, regardless of your resources, if you are caring for an aging loved one, you cannot do it alone.”
If you are the family caregiver of an ICS member, our care mangers are here to help. If you don’t know who your family member’s care manager is, call our Member Services Department at 1.877.ICS.2525.
If you are interested in the Circle of Care Program, please call Tanali Hamlet at 1.646.653.6394. And please keep an eye on our Family Caregivers resource page for upcoming programs and events.