Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP recently wrote this piece about caregiving that appeared in Myajc.com, the online version of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Here’s a portion of what she had to say:
If ever you’ve had the urge to perform a random act of kindness, think about aiming it in the direction of a caregiver — and what better time than the new year.
Imagine what it might be like to wind up doing a job you never trained for, were totally unprepared for, and never really wanted to do. It’s a job that can require you to be at work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays, no lunch break and no chance for promotion. Oh … and it pays nothing. You might be thinking parenthood, but this is something different. Something equally, or more, demanding.
You never really applied for this job — but you were hired, as so many people are, with a phone call telling you your mother had a stroke, or your spouse was injured on active duty. On that call, you heard your mother or spouse needed someone to lend a hand to help navigate life’s necessities — what the jargon-lovers call “activities of daily living” — such as getting dressed, staying nourished and tending to hygiene.
Overwhelmingly, people don’t think twice and say “yes, of course.” They are loving, generous sons and daughters, partners, wives and husbands, or even close friends, just doing what families and friends do.
That’s the way they see themselves, but they are, in fact, caregivers. Some come to the role more gradually, beginning with a little help grocery shopping or driving a neighbor to doctors’ appointments. Maybe they live at a distance and volunteer to pitch in with bill-paying or taking care of insurance claims.
As needs change, and if health deteriorates, the job can become increasingly demanding. Full time. Round the clock.
Close to 40 million people in the United States provide unpaid care to an ill or disabled adult, often single-handedly. Only half of them say they get any unpaid assistance from other family or friends.
Sixty percent of caregivers are also holding down a paying job, and more than two-thirds of them use their own money to provide care. Those age 75 and over are typically the sole support of their loved ones. Nearly a quarter of America’s caregivers are millennials, between age 18 and 34, and they’re equally likely to be male or female.
As unstinting as caregivers are with their own time, they often feel emotionally and physically overwhelmed. That’s where each of us can help a little.
Small acts of kindness can have a big impact. They don’t have to be anything complicated or expensive. You can shovel snow from a driveway or sidewalk, arrange a play date for their kids, offer the gift of time away, make a meal or grab their grocery list. If it’s someone who is taking care of a veteran, you might suggest that they contact the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting military families and caregivers. Making specific offers tends to work better than asking a caregiver “to let you know how I can help.”