The Caregiver’s Journey
By Mark Narvaez, Care Manager
Rosalynn Carter, former first lady and founder of the Rosalynn Carter Caregiving Institute has noted, “There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who need caregivers”. Currently, in America, 65 million caregivers make up 29% of the adult population. Indeed, we are rapidly becoming a Caregiver Nation, each one with their own personal and poignant story to tell.
Each November, we celebrate and pay tribute to our caregivers during National Family Caregiver Awareness Month. At the same time, we must also note the significant challenges and risks which caregiving entails. At the recent 8th Annual Family Caregiver Conference, Keynote Speaker, Barbara Michels, metaphorically and accurately, referenced the “journey of the caregiver” and the need for each to develop a “roadmap” in embarking on their personal journey.
A few of the important considerations in preparing and planning one’s caregiving roadmap, include:
Preparing and Planning for the Journey:
With the awareness that, at any moment, we may be called on to take-up the caregiving journey, it is never too early to begin to develop and plan our roadmap. Even after beginning the journey, planning and making adjustments to our map along the way is essential;
Taking Care of Yourself:
Caregivers are often selfless in their commitment to care, often at the risk of their own physical, psychological and spiritaul health. From the outset, it is important to allow yourself to consider and plan for those practices and activities which support one’s own on-going health and well-being.
Learn the Landscape:
A key component in taking care of oneself and our loved ones, is in coming to intimately know the aging process, disease and/or condition which we are confronting in our caregiver role and responsibilities. A key component in taking care of oneself is being able to anticipate the stop, starts, turns and hazards which might lie ahead;
In beginning any journey, it is useful to have help in navigating the road ahead. This includes being willing to pull-over on occasion to ask for direction. With the increased complexity of our health care, insurance, legal, financial, public benefit and service eligibility systems, it is important to seek out assistance from those professional, and others, including other caregivers, who travel these roads daily or have in the past, and are familiar with the network of community resources which exist to serve and assist us;
Seeking & Keeping Good Company:
Caregiving is a “job of jobs”. We need not and, in most cases, cannot embark on our caregiving journey alone. On any journey we take, it is an asset to have kind, caring, helpful and supporting company. In addition to those specialists and experts who can assist, it is useful to identify those within our more informal support network of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances who might also welcome the opportunity to “walk beside us” and contribute time, experience, expertise and other “gifts” in giving-back to you and your loved one;
Blessings of the Journey:
While the caregiving journey often presents many risks and challenges, as any longtime caregiver will tell you it also brings with it many blessings, in its’ humanity and commitment to fundamental values and virtues.
“While on your caregiving journey, remember that a whole network of local organizations and virtual/web-based resources have come into being in responding to and assisting with your caregiver issues, concerns and needs. These include: Area Agencies on Aging; non-profit organizations focused on specific disease conditions; local support groups; educational classes; caregiver web-sites, chat rooms and blogs and, of course, ourselves at Geriatric Care Management LLC!
A few helpful caregiver websites are:
THANK YOU TO ALL THE CAREGIVERS! As the Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran wrote in his classic work, The Prophet, “For this (we) cherish you most, you give much and know not that you give at all”.