The provision of care for elderly and disabled parents is an exceptionally challenging task currently juggled by millions of people around the world. The demographics of caregivers are startling. The vast majority are married women in the mid-forties (Brakman, 1995). A growing number are attempting to raise their own young families and work while caring for their ageing parents.
Dispelling the myth that most elderly people are abandoned in nursing homes, Topinkova (1995) reports between 70 and 80 percent of care for the ageing disabled is delivered informally by family and/or friends. These everyday acts of nurturing and care can certainly take their toll on caregivers. Financial, emotional, psychological, physical, and social problems are commonly associated with the experience of caregivers (Topinkova, 1995). Improved healthcare policies and societal attitudes could provide much needed support to the vulnerable population of family caregivers.
The already difficult job of caregivers can be intensified or eased because of several variables, including severity of illness, attitude of society, and knowledge of caregiver (Topinkova, 1995). The level of care necessary to care for an elderly individual can be determined by the person’s diagnosis and prognosis. Complex long-term conditions with little potential for improvements are generally more difficult adjustments for caregivers compared to more short-term acute illnesses or injuries.
Society, too, tends to accept some conditions more favorably than others. Dementia and other forms of mental deterioration are particularly distressing to most people. They are startling reminders for people of their own advancing age and the associated behavioral and personality disturbances are often too much to bear (Hoffman, 1994).
Further burdened by society’s rejecting treatment of people with mental disabilities, caregivers are additionally limited by their own lack of knowledge on the resources available. Brakman (1995) confirms the unfortunate reality that supportive services, including therapies and day treatment programs, are continually underutilized.
Researchers and policy makers have just begun to address the importance of caring for the caregiver (Topinkova, 1995). With a vulnerable and shrinking population of mostly women left to care for an increasing number of elderly people, action is needed to bolster the strength of caregivers (Brakman, 1995). As observed by the film Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter (Hoffman, 1994), the greatest challenges of caregiving are usually not physical.
The daughter’s emotional transformation in the video takes her from a need to correct her mother’s false and delusional statement to an encompassing acceptance that allowed the daughter to enjoy the final days with her mother. Unlike the role of parenting, the rewards of caring for the elderly can be scarce. Some caregivers are barely recognized by their ageing parents. As Brakman (1995) argues however, the interdependent of caregivers and their elderly parents should not be characterized by reciprocity-or paying back what is owed. Instead, caring should be viewed as acts of gratitude for the love shown throughout a lifetime (Brakman, 1995).
With the simple shift of motivation from reciprocity to gratitude, a number of caregiving dilemmas are addressed. Adult children especially daughters, are no longer expected to meet demands that are impossible to achieve. All siblings and family members can demonstrate gratitude in different ways and most importantly, it is not a sign of failure to seek out help and support.
With the removal of the stigma associated with seeking part-time or full-time professional care for ageing loved ones, the quality and quantity of services will improve (Brakman, 1995). Common caregiving conflicts, like the demands of parenting versus caring, can be seen in a new light when more options are available.
In addition to improving the state of nursing homes, day programs, and services to aid the elderly, several other healthcare and policy changes are necessary to lighten the load carried by millions of American women. More comprehensive healthcare coverage and economic incentives for caring for the elderly at home could ease the financial strain felt by families of several generations. In-home care is generally less expensive than institutionalization and more state funds could be reserved for severe health conditions and individuals with few or distant family members (Topinkova, 1995).
As funding and programs align, consideration should also be given to imbalanced responsibility placed on women as the sole day-to-day caregivers for ageing parents. As the number of women and hours dedicated to the workforce has risen, the responsibilities of childcare and caregiving for the elderly have not shifted. With the fall of the caregiver, an entire family crumbles. Already faltering caregivers should serve as society’s warning sign and signal for change. In less than 20 years, Topinkova (1995) predicts more than 2/3 of women will be caring for an elderly parent.
Immediate change is necessary to prevent a healthcare crisis. The gender inequality must be ratified. Men should be equally responsible for decision-making, nurturing, and caring for their elderly parents. Women should not be slighted or stigmatized for seeking help. With a supportive society, modernized policies, and shared responsibilities between genders, more caregivers could provide their gifts of gratitude while enjoying their parents for the last years of their lives.
Brakman, S. (1995). Adult daughter caregivers: Philosophical analysis and implications for health care policy. In D. Callahan, R. H. J. TerMeulen & E. Topinkovva (Eds.), A world growing old (pp. 117-126). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press.
Hoffman, D. (Producer). (1994). Complaints of a dutiful daughter [Motion picture].
Topinkova, E. (1995). Family caregiving for the elderly: Are there ways to meet the need? In D. Callahan, R. H. J. TerMeulen & E. Topinkovva (Eds.), A world growing old (pp. 106-116). Washington, D. C.: Georgetown Press.