There have been multiple walks to raise awareness for life-changing events such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. As shoelaces were tied, how many participants thought of the millions of caregivers who are directly affected by these diagnoses? Unless the participants themselves have experienced the role of “caregiver,” there was little chance this was a concern.
Caregivers are silent partners in the realm of life-changing illnesses. There are no parades or walks for these heroes. A caregiver month is allocated to November, but why only a single month dedicated to these champions? Millions of caregivers volunteer their time and talents every day. Nebraska caregivers alone provide almost 200 million hours of care annually. At a minimum wage of $9 per hour, approximately $2 billion have been saved over a 12-month period just in Nebraska.
Caregivers cook meals, do laundry, perform household chores and provide companionship. They lift, transfer, bathe, dress and toilet those they care for as well as manage medications and transportation. Most of the caregivers are single women over age 40 caring for a parent. The original identity of "spouse," "sibling" or "child" blurs and eventually evolves into “caregiver.”
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This 24/7 position becomes emotionally, physically and financially difficult. Those who are employed while caring for someone find themselves using paid time off for cares and, not surprisingly, decrease their work hours. Social Security and pension contributions are affected by lower incomes. When the care becomes more intense, they may leave the workforce altogether.
Caregivers are so immersed in their roles that they ignore their own health and become exhausted, sometimes even sicker than the one for which they give care. Over 50% of caregivers die before the person they are caring for, according to caregiver.org.
Rosalyn Carter said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers. And those who will need a caregiver.”
Caregiving may be looked upon as a sacrifice, but it is a commendable gift. Caregiving takes a special person, a big heart and a strong back. It is 24/7.
The world will always need caregivers and will never have enough. Salute a caregiver if you know one. If there is ever a parade for caregivers, attend it. The caregivers won’t be there ... they will be caring for the people they love.
Robbie Nathan is a transition consultant with Bridge to Better Living. She, like so many, has been in the role of caregiver ... and didn’t even know it.