We are living in a time of great medical advances that allow people to live longer lives. In this century, we are seeing the majority of people reach old age, where 75% of the population make it past their 65th birthday (Skolnick, 2013). While survivorship is increasing, so are the proportions of chronic conditions and disabilities among the elderly (Buckley et al, 2013). Not to mention that by 2030, the baby boomer generation will bring the elderly population to double what it is today (Knickman & Snell, 2002). This changing life cycle pattern carries with it the implications of caregiving needs at the end of life.
Almost 75% of elders dealing with chronic conditions such as disability and dementia, receive care at home from family (Walsh, 2011). While it is comforting to know that our elders can be cared for in the warmth and familiarity of our home, it is no small task. It often requires medication administration, hospitalization, mobility assistance, operating medical equipment, performing at-home dialysis, and heavy home adaptations (Sterling & Shaw, 2020). Providing this complex care for a loved one can be physically taxing, but this is in no comparison to the emotional drain that comes with caring for a loved one at the end of their life.
Family caregiving may involve the entire household managing tasks between one another. Family members may assist in preparing special diets, keeping track of medications, assisting with bathroom needs, and attending to the loved one throughout the hours of the night. For progressive diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s, these tasks can be especially overwhelming when they are compounded by the loved one’s sleep disturbances, incontinence, delusions, and aggression (Walsh, 2011).
When our loved ones are at the last leg of their illness or life, we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible. But often we forget how uncomfortable this may be for those who are doing the caregiving. Caregivers may be experiencing psychological distress and depression, lack of sleep, strained family relationships, economic burden, and the list goes on (Schulz et al., 2020)! But on top of these difficulties, family caregivers are often struggling greatly with feelings of ambiguous loss and anticipation of grief. For the family as a unit, juggling these components between one another can be painful.
For those who are anticipating or currently caregiving for a loved one, know that these feelings and symptoms are normal. For those who know of a friend who is caregiving for a loved one, don’t underestimate how significant it can be to offer a helping hand, an afternoon of being with the loved one, a casserole, or your ear to listen.
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