Something astonishing happened in the United States between the years 1946 and 1964. During a period that was marked by an explosion of 79.6 million births, it gave rise to a phenomenon that started the popular term, “baby boomers.” Part of an aging population who once sported Davy Crockett-style raccoon hats and enjoyed popular television classics such as Captain Kangaroo, I Love Lucy, and The Mickey Mouse Show, boomers are now experiencing another life-changing event. Many have been thrust into the role of caregivers as their elderly parents, spouse, siblings or even they themselves face debilitating ailments such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. They shrug their shoulders and carry the burden—then the long journey begins.
Former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter once stated, “Care giving is universal. 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 will need caregivers.”
The onset of disease and the need for care giving can be sudden, total or both. While partners, children or family members have been driven into these roles because of their love and understanding, the rewards can be minimal. Caregivers often suppress their own needs in favor of the afflicted family member. And while their service period is almost unlimited, the obligation of the caregiver can become an overwhelming burden. However, there are a wealth of resources, services, (by both public and not-for-profit organizations) programs, and counseling which provide aide to caregivers.
Help for the caregiver
Sheila Warnock, founder and president of ShareTheCaregiving Inc., a Manhattan-based nonprofit and co-author of Share the Care, developed a successful care giving system in 1995 after she and 11 other women helped several seriously ill friends. It inspired the birth of Share the Care, a program that has become a model for caregiver groups, medical establishments, universities and community groups around the country.
Craig Jennings, a Long Island-based small business coach and coordinator of the “Caring for the Caregiver” program at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Manhasset, became a caregiver after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although he struggled, he learned a valuable lesson. He took a class on care giving from Cancer Care Long Island in Woodbury where he learned about the Caregiver’s Bill of Rights, among other issues. Then he took it one step further.
“I decided to create a program for caregivers that would not blindside them, as I was,” explained Jennings. “There are about 40 million caregivers in the United States. The service they provide, if valued at market rates, would be equivalent to 350 billion dollars of service per year. Care giving is universal. In fact, family care giving is the backbone of the world health system.”
A huge trend is taking place now. As we get older, medicine is devising more replacement parts for us. What we haven’t managed is the emotional part of care giving. Jennings pointed out, “There isn’t anyone who is a caregiver who wouldn’t argue with that.”