More than ever before, caregiving is recognized as a key element of everyday life for millions of families throughout the United States. As our population ages, more families are providing care for an older adult at home, and an increasing number of people will need such care in the future. Current demographic and healthcare trends make this issue even more significant:
Over the past two decades, as the population of seniors—65+ years—has grown, government (local, state, federal) agencies, nonprofit community organizations, for profit businesses and the media have focused increasing attention on the needs of seniors and those who provide them with support, assistance or care. It is estimated that by 2050 the population of people over 65 will be 20.9% of the population. These are startling numbers effecting everyone in the United States.
The best everyday care choices for the person diagnosed with a dementing illness, and for loved ones giving care, depend on an understanding of values and care preferences. Examples of everyday care choices include when to stop driving, how to manage money, whether to purchase or use support services, when to accept care from family members and, at a more personal level, when to bathe and what activities to do.
Our culture tells us that we should fight hard against age, illness and death: "Do not go gentle into that good night," Dylan Thomas wrote. And holding on to life, to our loved ones, is indeed a basic human instinct. However, as an illness advances, "raging against the dying of the light" often begins to cause undue suffering, and "letting go" may instead feel like the next stage.
Many of the diseases and disorders that affect the brain are progressive and their incidence and prevalence increase with age. Caring for those with adult-onset brain impairments frequently becomes a 24-hour, 7-day a week role. As the population ages, the need for care and for understanding the impact of these disorders on families becomes even more pressing.
Support or "self-help" groups are formed by people who share common concerns. The groups may be participant-initiated or sponsored by a health care institution, social services agency or nonprofit organization.
A degenerative or terminal illness, or an accident involving a family member, is a traumatic experience for spouse, parents, children and other relatives. Support groups allow those facing the difficult task of daily caregiving to benefit from interaction and support from other people in similar situations.
One of the hardest things about life is recognizing its various parts. I mean, we never really notice pregnant women until our wife becomes one, or the plight of the handicapped until we break an ankle or leg, and crutches help us see more clearly.