Sunday, March 4, 2018

An Ode to Caregivers

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Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp

a division of United Stroke Alliance

www.unitedstrokealliance.org

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Due to personal constraints (nothing bad) I have been posting a new article every two weeks instead of weekly. The plan is to go back to weekly postings on March 12th.
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The following is from the StrokeNet Newsletter:
http://www.strokenet.info
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Making Stroke Recovery Possible

by Deb Theriault
Senior Contributing Writer and
Information Resources Administrator

Caregiver (care-giv-er/ noun: a person who provides direct care) Source: Meriam-Webster Dictionary

Is there a job out there that is more underestimated and more personally difficult, yet more essential, than that of the caregiver? Probably not. The caregiver function is largely swept under the rug, as society looks the other way and collectively says “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.

On one hand, people can dismiss how difficult a caregiver’s job is, while, on the other hand, fear that sometime in the future they, too, will either have to become a caregiver for someone, or rely upon one to care for themselves. Why is the caregiver function so undervalued and, often, misunderstood? Well, it’s time that we give caregivers their due and then some.

Simply put, caregivers make it possible for others to go on living (literally), as well as to live more comfortably and with dignity. To do this, caregivers assist with hygiene and daily-living activities that cover a very wide spectrum.

On one end, they may make meals, housekeep, assure that medications are taken, take their charges to doctor and therapy appointments, shop for their food and sundries, take them to church or other social activities, and, often, provide their charge with companionship.

On the other end, in addition to many of the above functions, they may have to hand-feed their charge, wash / bathe the person, turn them over in bed throughout the day and night, and tend to their most intimate of toilet functions. This is a huge range of responsibilities.

It’s worth noting that some caregivers are actually paid to do their jobs, but most people rely on un-paid caregivers: spouses, relatives, even friends who step up and do the right thing by helping out a dependent adult, or child, in need. To complicate things, the caregiver often has other job or family responsibilities, which leaves little time for themselves and their own personal needs. No matter how well-intentioned, it’s unrealistic to expect such super-human output of anyone. No wonder “caregiver burnout” is such a huge problem.

Let’s stop here for a moment and recognize that even “commercial” caregivers need to be commended. The caregiver-for-hire needs to enjoy taking care of people, or get some sort of satisfaction from helping others out, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs effectively. But, even though they get paid for their services, they can still experience the same emotional fallout as unpaid caregivers. This is especially true if they bond with their patient and the patient declines physically or emotionally, and /or becomes more difficult to care for.

Also, (and I hate to mention this) I feel an obligation to shine a light on the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, because caregiving can be so backbreaking, there is an underbelly to the caregiving function. Sadly, there are caregivers out there who are not so kind, and not so competent (both paid and un-paid). Over the years, I’ve heard of a few.

If a caregiver truly doesn’t want to be a caregiver, they can become surly and resentful when discharging their caregiving duties. Worse yet, they can become less careful, and less vigilant, with their charge, which can cause them to overlook changes in their patient’s health status and needs. They can also make the patient feel fearful or uncomfortable, not to mention, put them in physical danger.

The caregiver then becomes a “I-could-care-less-giver,” a lose / lose situation for everyone involved. This is an extreme case, of course, but it does happen. More often than not, the hapless caregiver simply becomes overwhelmed and exhausted, which can make them a bit careless or take longer to do their job.

From a personal standpoint, I wish I had a workable solution to caregiver burnout, but I don’t. I do know that while it’s not a solution to burnout, caregiver “respite” can help ease things a bit. There are caregiver respite services available in many cities and towns around the U.S., but these services aren’t always obvious; you have to work to find them.

Many times, churches step in and find people from their congregation to volunteer respite time to caregivers. If I were a caregiver, I’d try to see whether my church has such a volunteer workforce. Sometimes, Senior Community Centers also offer similar caregiver respite services to their community, again relying upon volunteers. And, while these aren’t available everywhere, there are also organizations dedicated to helping veterans. Again, one has to do some research to locate them.

The last option is to hire a qualified, professional caregiver on an occasional basis, to give the permanent caregiver breathing room and to find some time for themselves. (Regardless of the route one takes, as a society, on the whole, we need to find better solutions to help our citizens who require caregiver services, as well to provide help to the caregivers themselves. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we can do better.)

With that, let’s hear it for the thousands of selfless, hard-working caregivers out there. They are true angels to those who need them. In this “hearts and flowers” month of February, I‘m sending them a HUGE “virtual” Valentine brimming with sincere gratitude, and many warm hugs and pats on the back, for the vital service they provide, and for the super-important role that they play in peoples’ lives.

I thank you, marvelous people, from the bottom of my heart. You’re more important than you’ll ever know.
Deb survived her third stroke in 2006. In addition to her work with the Stroke Network, Deb is Treasurer for the W. Pa. Division of the US Fencing Assoc., does community gardening in her neighborhood and is a professionally-trained artist who has been specializing in figure drawing for many years.
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Copyright ©February 2018
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009
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