The November 2017 edition of the AARP Bulletin leads with this headline: “What is the best kept secret of caregivers in America? Forty percent of them are men.”

Are you surprised? I sure was.

The article reveals that about 16 million men care for a family member or friend. Often, the caregiver and the one being helped are married to each other and either senior or elderly. In-home care means their loved one doesn’t have to enter a care facility, thus separating them — or draining their savings.

Sixty percent of family caregivers also hold full- or part-time jobs. As much as they plan their lives, emergencies spring up, requiring them to leave work or stay home. Many fear losing their jobs over absences. It’s hard.

In Lodi, we’re fortunate to have the Adult Day Care at Hutchins Street Square, where residents may attend their program for up to 5 days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Financial assistance may be available in the form of scholarships, as well.

Additionally, some employers have begun giving help to their caregiver-employees in the way of paid leave, workshops, call centers, or offering the services of a geriatric care consultant. These compassionate companies aren’t common, however.

Often it’s the unanswered questions that haunt caregivers the most. Peace comes with answers. Knowing what step to take next is a godsend. When you feel someone has your back, it’s easier to cope with the sometimes arduous tasks.

Caregiving is a learned skill. Most people, no matter the gender, must be educated. They can end up isolated and don’t ask for help, although they may desperately need it. This leads to loneliness, which can bring on depression, which can cause stress-related health issues. What happens when the caregiver can no longer do their job?

Sometimes, caregiving is not a choice but a duty to a loved one. Taking on that role has its challenges financially and also emotionally, in the form of anger, grief, guilt and sometimes shame.

To combat this, support is critical from other family members and from fellow caregivers who live in the same trenches. Finding a support group is beyond important. It’s necessary to maintain a balanced life, one that doesn’t break you down. To that end, tell your family you need help. Don’t suffer in silence.

Caregivers are of every age, from a child helping a parent at home to a 90-year-old helping a beloved spouse. The challenges that child and young adult caregivers face include poverty, social isolation, lack of support, and decreased chances to succeed in school. Their lack of opportunities limit their ability to succeed later in life.

Statistically, baby boomers make up the majority of caregivers, but only by a 3-percent margin nationally. In California, millennials (those born between 1982 and 2002) are the largest generation of caregivers, most commonly of a grandparent.

In the next 20 to 30 years, an enormous number of people will require help, and Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care. There is a severe shortage of qualified care workers, and it’s predicted that situation will only get worse as baby boomers turned 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day — and they’re looking to age at home.

So, what can you do for your family member who needs care? Talk to your employer and see if they will help. Be creative together to find solutions. Do the same with your families. Engage them in the process.

Educate yourself before the situation gets desperate. AARP has a website of wide-ranging help at www.aarp.org/caregiving. Their Caregiving Resource Center (877-333-5885 toll-free) is staffed with trained professionals to answer questions and calm your fears of the unknown.

Social boards on various websites are populated with people already in the trenches, giving care at home. Just finding comfort in not being alone can be sanity saving.

Support groups exist to do just that — support. They become your lifeline. In Lodi, several groups support individual diseases: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, mental health and others.

The program at Hutchins Street Square Adult Day Care has a support group that meet the second Wednesday of every month at 4:30 p.m. It’s open to the public and covers all diseases and caregiving in general.

People who take on the care of others are gift givers of the highest order. Many also say in return they receive the gift of satisfaction, knowing they’ve done as much as they can do for someone they love. Yes, it’s hard, very hard, work. And a labor of love.

Susan Crosby is a Lodi author and member of the Lodi Senior Citizens Commission.

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