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Constance Alexander: Sobering statistics reveal the stark realities surrounding the lives of caregivers

One in five. At least 20 hours. Fifty-eight percent. The statistics regarding caregiving are stark. To put a finer point on the numbers: One in five adults are caregivers. Thirty percent of them provide care for at least 20 hours per week. Fifty-eight percent are women who manage other household tasks and also assist with varying levels of personal care, sometimes around the clock.

Putting an even finer point on it, according to the Caregivers Action Network which sponsors November as National Family Caregivers Month, “Caregiving can be a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job.”

November is crammed with many other special observances, from hospice awareness to epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), but caregiving is the one category that is bound to affect most of us. In fact, one in six non-caregivers today can expect to become caregivers within two years.

While twenty percent of caregivers are 65 years or older, other age groups are involved. See the mother of two with a fulltime job. Her mornings are a flurry of readying kids for school or daycare, getting dressed for work, and making sure the loved one she is caring for has what is needed for the day.

There are caring neighbors of any age who call every morning to make sure the senior citizen next door is up and around for the day. They might inquire about what kind of help might be needed to shop for groceries or get to a doctor’s appointment.

And don’t forget the dedicated volunteers who deliver things like Meals on Wheels, thus providing another crucial act of necessity and kindness for those who cannot easily care for themselves.

For the past three years, inspired by the range of challenges and responsibilities, I interviewed caregivers of many stripes to understand more about what they do and how they manage. One steadfast senior who cares for an aging spouse with disabilities told me she resists being told how much others admire her patient and loving ministrations for her husband. She is doing what she wants to do for the person she loves, she told me. After all, isn’t that what we do for loved ones?

Another woman spoke to me of being called home to provide end-of-life care for her mother, suffering from terminal cancer. The only person in the family who could carve out a chunk of time to do so, the recent college grad was unemployed, a bit down-and-out, and the so-called black sheep of the family. Besides caring for her mother, she endured the second-guessing of her older, more settled siblings who lived far away and could not resist questioning every decision she made regarding their parent’s final illness.

Caring for loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s seemed to inspire the most stressful situations. One person spoke of going online for information about safeguarding the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. One of the tips recommended having a list on hand of places a person might go to if they wandered away from home and got lost. Another tip was to keep an article of recently-worn clothing in a plastic bag, in case a search for a lost loved one became necessary.

These and other interviews grew into a chapbook entitled, “From Cradle to Grace.” The first poem, “The Silence,” repeats words and phrases used to compliment caregivers about their selfless service to a loved one. But lavish words of praise don’t always help.

“Some days I want to flee,” the poem says.

In the end, however, caregivers are grateful to serve because they know, when their work is done, “the silence” comes next.

For more information about “From Cradle to Grace,” published by Finishing Line Press, log on to the publisher’s site or Amazon.com.

If poetry doesn’t work, there are plenty of other readings that provide relevant information and useful tips for caregivers. Find the best books for caregivers written in 2019 at www.whereyoulivematters.org.

More information about Family Caregivers Month is available at www.aarp.org.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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One Comment

  1. Anne Adams says:

    Spot on!!

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