Family Caregivers Still Undervalued By Many

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We live in a society that tends to value what we do over who we are.

If what we do isn't highly paid or well understood, many people often brush it off as unimportant. Thus, one of the most important jobs in our society today – that of being a family caregiver – is all too often undervalued by people who don't understand.

We may not be able to control other's viewpoints, but we do have some control over whether we accept this view of what we do and remain confident in our own decisions.

During the two decades I spent caring for different combinations of multiple elders I often found myself searching for what I hoped would be a suitable answer to the question: "What do you do?"

This question was generally asked at the occasional social event I attended.

I'd learned early on that people really weren't interested in how I was on call 24/7 because of potential emergency situations with several elders. They didn't care that I often spent two or three out of five week days taking people to medical appointments and much of the rest of my week tending to their daily needs. They couldn't relate to that kind of life and didn't regard what I did as a "real" job.

Therefore, I wasn't worth much more than a brief nod before they'd move on to someone more interesting. Eventually, I grew strong enough to not worry about what other people thought and found my own satisfaction in giving loving care to my family.

Statistics can help back our case

As millions of boomers' parents continue to age, more people have been called on to be family caregivers.

This increased demand has given caregiving a higher profile, which helps some, but the general public still tends to lack a true understanding and respect for what caregivers do.

We shouldn't have to justify our choices to care for our adult loved ones, or go on a rant about how we are trying to fulfill what we see as our responsibilities. Yet we often do.

A MetLife study, as reported on NPR's "The True Cost of Caregiving," says that the kind of care family caregivers provide would cost about $42,000 a year, if it was provided by paid workers. A private room in a nursing home averages more than $87,000. Of course, the specific figures vary by region, and the cost of care has risen since the original study was updated in 2011.

However, caregiving is about far more than money.

We do it out of love or at least a sense of duty. Would it be too much, though, for us to ask for a little respect and understanding from non-caregivers?

Former colleagues, potential employers and even old friends often don't understand why we frequently need to take substantial time away from our work; generally in the form unpaid leave or extended vacation time. It's either that, or we quit our jobs.

If we quit a paying job and then try to find another when our caregiving has eased, or we simply have no choice financially to do anything else, we are often treated, as one woman put it, "like we took a long vacation."

Vacation? Have these people never cared for a vulnerable adult?

Caregivers would like to have people understand that with or without outside employment, caregiving is a job.

As a person who has worked in a variety of paid positions, I can say that no job for which I've received a regular paycheck has ever compared in intensity or hours to my years of caregiving. There were times when going to my officially recognized job was a vacation from caregiving, except that the worry of caregiving never eases.

As with many difficult life situations, only those who've walked a similar path can understand on the deepest level.

If you want support for your caregiving efforts, go to your state website and look for their version of the National Family Caregiver Support Program. Ask for practical help in any way you can get it.

Learn to understand your own value, and then look to other caregivers for empathetic emotional support. We know each other's hearts.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

Visit Minding Our Elders

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26 Comments

Thank God for this article. You've nailed some of my own confused thoughts dead on.

I'm too tired to write much, but to anyone who ever wants to judge me too harshly, come live my life, with my mom, with her many, many issues, and all of the pain, and confusion, and sadness, and guilt and all the damn crap we in this care taking position flay ourselves with every damn day in our own tired, exhausted minds, come live this, all of this that is alzheimers and dementia and every body that deals, to those who would judge too harshly need to come and get some.....take my place just for one week...PLEASE...before you throw too big a stone.... I send you the best of karma and strength. You'll need it. And bring some tissues and happy pills alone for the ride, too, while you're at it. Come well armed if you want to get a taste of what my world is really like.. . lol Care givers sacrifice...more than anyone should be asked to, and nobody seems to know that, but at least we get it here, thank God.

G'night....sleep is calling
I think insults and judgments come to us from the ignorance of those who simply do not care, much less understand the overwhelming needs of a booming demographic of aging people.

Not everyone is cut out to be a caregiver, and the ones who are not cut out to be caregivers should take EXTRA precaution to understand those who are because in the end, SOMEBODY has to do it!

As a caregiver myself for over 15 years, not only working as a paid one but also being one to immediate family, it is extremely disheartening when you are accused of being "dependent upon everyone" because you don't make a lot of money. This article hits home to many who struggle everyday to be understood in a world that venerates high paying, high profile, popular people who actually are more corrupt than they are noble,
I would like to point out a common situation in conjunction with this topic. Most caregivers need a backup plan for future care needs, or in the a possible case of themselves getting ill or their own need of medical attention. So along with daily care needs being met, they have to find resources and navigate and negotiate through a maze of "what if's" and prepare for anything that may cause a crisis situation, have to with no choice worry about all of this as well, and just do it all (usually alone) however possible or impossible. This adds another job to the long list of duties, that, most non- caregivers have no idea or think about, any of these issues, nor do they understand unless they get involved themselves. I have also witnessed myself and from knowing and communicating with other caregivers, that this should be considered a fact ... that the people who do not cooperate or even extend a simple thank you, are usually the people who run when the situation is critical, but when everything is in order due to the caregivers efforts the runners come back like your nearing the finish line and complain about why the caregiver did this or that. Then...these people are the same ones that are making more work for the caregiver and instead of helping through the hard times, come out of nowhere and expect you to love the insults they dish-out and then wonder why you get so angry. I often wonder if this is guilt or pure ignorance or stupidity or just plain heartless. I know one thing... all I ever asked for was cooperation, understanding and two words "Thank You" . I also figured out that "Actions speak Louder than Words ...for sure!"