What happens when the live-in family caregiver is sick? I am ensconced in my basement dwelling, praying that Mama doesn’t get my cold. (It’s not altogether a bad thing, being sick. I get an enforced day of rest. But just so you know I’m not faking it, I’m staying home from my favorite-of-the-week day of cafe writing and yoga.)
I thought there would be no post today. I had nothing. But I find myself wondering what primary caregivers do when they are sick and their charge needs much more care than my mother needs, and there is no paid help.
Self-care is not easy for a caregiver. Aren’t we indispensable? I am part of a group of caregivers caring for someone who has dementia. Not exactly a support group, but a place to ask questions of the experts, and to know we aren’t alone in a lonely occupation. All the participants are women. Most are caring for a husband. Most are a good bit older than I. None are using hospice (which we are again in danger of losing, by the way). Most, if not all, don’t have paid help. I worry about these women.
Studies show that those who care for another are at a higher risk of early death than those who do not. For example, “if you are a caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 and are experiencing mental or emotional strain, you have a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of people your age who are not caregivers.”1
Interestingly, that quote says “mental or emotional strain.” I am quick to tell people my mother doesn’t require physical care (lest they think more highly of my plight than is justified), but her care is mentally and emotionally challenging. I think I say that by way of defense, knowing that there are so many people who have to lift and toilet and bathe and dress and feed the person they care for, and I know we are lucky that my mother can mostly still do that for herself. Mental/emotional strain is hidden from those looking in, and I struggle not to feel guilty when I whine about my life, even if only to myself.
I am also not juggling work and caring for adolescent children (thanks to the fact that my mother was 36 when I was born). But everyone needs to care for themselves by getting away from whatever they do day-to-day, regardless of the level of difficulty. And they need not to wait until they are sick. Studies also show that family caregivers of any age are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior, even knowing the statistics. But what if they compared caregivers to those who have a career that occupies them 80+ hours a week and who don’t take vacations and who work when they are sick. Maybe there wouldn’t be such a gap. My father died at 78—just saying.
As I look back at the past year, I realize I’ve been lazy with my life. (I wrote about it last week, and about what needs to be different in the new year, here.) I have taken care of myself, though perhaps not as well as I did the previous two years. But I have been really slack about moving into the life I want to be living. I am planning for a get-away or two in January. My primary goal will be to plan for the coming year. What I learned in 2015 is that not much happens when left to chance.
But right now I’m going to let it be okay to take a sick day or three. To sleep and read and watch Netflix. The sun is working to break through the fog outside my window. Perhaps it will get through my foggy head if I take care of myself. I will need all my strength if Mama catches a cold. For now she and Michelle are making crockpot chicken with carrots and celery, which I don’t at all like or want (and which she didn’t eat last time they made it), but for which I will express gratitude for her thoughtful caregiving.
1 Shultz, Richard and Beach, Scott (1999). Caregiving as A Risk for Mortality: The Caregiver Health Effects Study. JAMA, December 15, 1999 – Vol. 282, No.23