Caregiver's role is very gratifying

By  Lisa Petsche
  • October 26, 2007
One in five baby boomers and seniors provides care to an older adult, according to Statistics Canada. (In my experience, this figure is quite conservative.) The majority are in the 45 to 54 age group, giving practical help to a parent.

Intrinsic rewards

I would like to share some of the inherent benefits, gleaned from many years of working with caregivers:

  • A closer relationship with the care receiver, especially if the two previously lived far apart, or one or both led busy lives and simply didn't spend much time together. In some cases a relative's illness leads to reconnection after a period of estrangement, providing an opportunity to resolve, or at least set aside, differences.

  • Character development – for example, increased patience, sensitivity, reliability, flexibility, resourcefulness and assertiveness.

  • Mastery of practical knowledge and skills that make caregiving safer, easier and more enjoyable. Caregivers may also develop record-keeping and general organization skills that can help them in other areas of their life. In addition, some caregivers (typically spouses) learn life skills – such as cooking, money management and driving and maintaining a vehicle – that were previously handled by their relative. Although initially it may be stressful, this expansion of their repertoire of skills increases their independence and self-confidence.

  • Increased insight into their strengths and limitations – for instance, realizing they are stronger and more capable than they thought; and recognizing that they can't, and shouldn't, do it all alone.

Compassion and meaning

  • Increased compassion for others who face significant challenges, especially those who are ill or disabled and the loved ones assisting them.

  • Re-thinking of values and priorities. Caregivers of people with dementia or a life-threatening illness, for example, report learning to live in the present and appreciate the simpler things in life that make it enjoyable, such as music, a good cup of tea or coffee, the sights and sounds of nature and the company of family and friends.

  • The satisfaction of doing something meaningful. The experience of caregiving can be so fulfilling that it leads some people to eventually pursue a career as a personal support worker or other type of health care professional, hire themselves out as a live-in caregiver or private companion, or volunteer as a friendly visitor.

  • Opportunity for reciprocation. Many family members welcome the chance to give back to someone who has done much for them, particularly in terms of nurturing. This is especially so for offspring looking after parents. If the relationship has not been demonstrative, family members who take on a caregiving role oftentimes appreciate all the more the opportunity to express love, admiration and appreciation in tangible ways.

  • The satisfaction of fulfilling a commitment or perceived obligation – for example, living out one's marital vows ("in sickness and in health"), following the fourth commandment ("Honour your father and your mother") or honouring an earlier promise to help the person age in place.

Accept outside help

In order to help ensure that the caregiving experience remains positive, it's important for those providing care to make use of available assistance. This includes accepting offers of help from family members and friends, asking for specific kinds of help when needed and taking advantage of community services that can assist them with necessary tasks or help increase the care receiver's independence. Doing so improves the quality of life of both the caregiver and care receiver.

Potential community resources include personal emergency response systems, grocery delivery services, meals on wheels, volunteer driving programs, accessible transportation, outpatient clinics, therapeutic day programs, recreational programs, friendly visiting, home health care services, caregiver support groups and respite care.

Information on what's available locally can be obtained from a hospital or community social worker; the care receiver's family doctor or other involved health care professionals; the local Community Care Access Centre, public health office or community information service; the local chapter of the organization associated with the care receiver's disease (for example, the Parkinson Society); and other caregivers.

(Petsche is a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register.)

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