2017, The Year of the Caregiver

Happy New Year!

That’s right. I’m bold enough to call 2017 “The Year of the Caregiver”.

As an aging and disability services professional, I’ve attended a lot of training and conferences. And one of the topics I’ve seen added to the program booklets is caregiving. Each time I’ve attended these presentations, I’ve learned about this seemingly new phenomena and how we, as a country, are coping with it. Our population is aging, and we’re not handling it well at all. There. I said it.

Caregiving is not a new phenomena. Since the beginning of time, humans and animals alike have contributed to the nurturing and healing of those most precious to them. I’d argue that caregiving is a process naturally woven into the fabric of humanity. It’s the best of us, and sometimes it’s the worst. So why does it seem like we’re just starting to discuss things like caregiver burden? Are we simply some new age kind of selfish that we weren’t before the turn of the century? Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. Times are different. Our family structures are very different than they were even 50 years ago. People are having fewer children, and they’re having them later in life. And in our quest to live up to the ideals of individualism, we’re farther away from our parents and immediate families (either physically or emotionally). Instead of there being five people in a household to provide care, there may be one or two. That means that caregiver responsibilities are in the hands of people who are balancing their own needs along with the needs of another person, often without much help. The burnout is real.

It will be interesting to see if things will change with Millennials coming of age. You’ve heard and read a million times about the struggles they face as a result of coming of age during the economic downturn. This cohort of youngins are known for leaving home later in adulthood. They’re also known for having to move back in their parents due to financial strain. I would be interested in learning more about how this process is affecting families. I wonder if families are becoming closer and starting to work together more when a loved one needs care.

Caregiving is also a culturally varying phenomena, and I think there needs to be more discussion about how practitioners can streamline processes so that every caregiver has the tools they need not only to provide care, but also to maintain their sanity.  We need to meet people where they are, and understand when widely held assumptions simply won’t work.

I see more news and social media stories than ever related to care and how we provide it. We’ve got a long way to go in creating solutions for caregivers that actually work. We’ve talked about it. Now it’s time for more research, and community level work. A caregiver cares for 85-year-old mom who has dementia. A caregiver cares for a permanently disabled child. A caregiver cares for an adult with a long term illness. There’s no static description. And in 2017, we’ve got to move beyond definitions and create accessible spaces for support.

#yearofthecaregiver

Keep taking care,

D. Southern

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