Quad Cities, IL/IA

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The Caregiver Paradox: Are You Stuck?


Submitted by Home Helpers

When I was 17 years old, the matriarch of my family, my grandmother, suffered her fifth stroke. Afterward, her mind was still sharp, but, physically, she was never the same. She needed care 24 hours a day. In the summers and on holidays, we would drive to Kentucky from our home in Florida to spend time with family and help care for Nan. When I was a senior in college, my mother suffered her third stroke after a surgery and took a turn for the worse, cognitively and physically. Six months after my mom’s stroke, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Life spiraled out of control much faster than anyone could have anticipated. My family and I felt overwhelmed, stressed, confused, and frustrated that we did not know where to turn for help. I turned in my roles of daughter, granddaughter, wife, friend, and sister and became a caregiver to my mother and father while trying to finish my last semester of college.

As it turns out, my experience of transitioning from daughter to caregiver is not unique. Nearly half of American adults are members of the so-called sandwich generation, faced with caring for the escalating needs of aging grandparents, parents, and their own children at the same time.

What sets this generation apart is the sheer number of relatives who will need to be cared for over the coming decades. An alarming 76 million people, or about a quarter of the US population, are Baby Boomers. In the next 15 years, more than one in five Americans will be over the age of 65. While these Boomers’ increasing medical and financial needs continually receive appropriate and important attention, what is usually missed is the effect this will have on families.

On average, family caregivers provide 20 hours of work weekly to aging relatives. These family caregivers lose their sense of self and are caught somewhere between daughter, caregiver, and parent — stuck in a caregiver paradox. They begin to feel guilty, resentful, and angry about their situation.

How can we provide the care our aging loved ones require, when most of us are already swamped with the demands of a career and taking care of our own children? How can we possibly fill so many roles all at once?

The signs that our parents need extra help eventually become impossible to ignore. Whether it’s the piling up of dirty laundry, missed doses of important medications, or concerns about driving, most of us will have to acknowledge at some point that Mom is getting older, or that Dad isn’t invincible like we used to believe.

I know from personal experience how care needs escalate quickly and without warning. I see it in my line of work every single day. When they take a look back, family caregivers notice how helping with a few chores “here and there” quickly became hours of running errands, cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking, bathing, and helping mom or dad with almost all their daily needs. The truth becomes clear only in hindsight: they traded in their role of daughter or son for that of caregiver, and they didn’t even know it was happening.

Take a moment to assess your situation. As you provide care for your aging loved one, are you losing the special relationship you once shared? My family’s care needs sneaked up on me, and I know I would give anything to have spent more quality time with my father as his daughter, not as his caregiver.

Home Helpers of Scott County has been helping seniors live independently since 2004. For more information on services or to arrange a free consultation, you can call Home Helpers locally at 563-386-4969, reach them on the web at Homehelpershomecare.com, or find them on Facebook under Home Helpers of Scott County.