In the United States, at least 16% of the population aged 15 years and older provide unpaid care for family. 81% of those who provide home care for their family member are employed, most having full-time jobs working forty hours a week outside the home. That’s on top of taking care of their children, parent, or spouse, as well as other daily responsibilities that come with being alive. So with all the usual responsibilities, why do so many choose to devote so much time to the personal care of an ill family member when there are home health aide services and home nursing services? When do you finally sit down and say “I need to become a caregiver?”
You need to become a caregiver the moment you realize your parent or sibling or aunt can’t take care of themselves. It could be the moment they fall and break a bone with no one around to help. Or, it could be an alarming test result. Whatever it is, it changes things. An important part of being family is taking care of each other; parents take care of us as children and as adults we return that care when their health fails. Even if your relative has decent health insurance, the cost of a dedicated home care service or nurse can be an overwhelming financial burden most families can’t shoulder. You have no other choice, at some point, but to dedicate yourself and your time to caring for that person. And we do so willingly. But becoming a personal caregiver is often more complicated than checking in or driving them to doctor appointments or purchasing groceries and cooking dinner. It requires patience, dedication, and some level of comfort with the person and their health needs. Most of us aren’t medical experts and have no more knowledge than what we learned on hospital drama television shows. I mean, House taught us that it’s never Lupus until it is, in fact, Lupus. That’s pretty cool, but how is that going to help me give my diabetic father his daily insulin injection? It’s not. So when the health of someone you love dearly starts to fail, you step up, filled with cloying self-doubt, worry, and fear. Again, all added onto the normal daily burden or working, living, taking care of menial errands day in and day out.
How do you alleviate the self-doubt and fear that you may make things worse or hurt your loved one by improperly dispensing their daily medication? The thought that so much as giving them the wrong thing to eat could damage their already deteriorating health is overwhelming. But when you need to become a personal caregiver, there are training programs and courses available to give you the basics—the do’s and don’ts of caring safely and effectively for someone you love in your own home. Knowing even the basics can help lift one small weight from your shoulders. Some practices are so common sense that we don’t even think to do them. Making a bed, keeping a safe environment, documenting health, vitals, medication…. It’s all necessary to keeping your family member comfortable and as happy as they could be considering circumstances.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we will not be in perfect health forever and that, one day, we’re going to have to look after a family member who can’t look after themselves. When that happens, you have resources---online training programs, resource guides, videos, support systems and support groups. You also have the other members of your family to help you along. The important part of becoming a personal caregiver for someone you love is remembering that doubt isn’t harmful and that family matters. Nothing sums up how to deal with the struggles of caring for your loved ones than the internet’s favorite quote from Lilo and Stitch: Ohana means family; family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”