Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has declared November as a month for recognition of unpaid family caregivers. According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, as many as 820,000 family members are caring for a loved one in an unpaid caregiver status.
Without unpaid family caregivers, many elderly people and disabled persons would struggle to perform many of their routine daily tasks. For the caregivers, this is a mixed dichotomy of taking care of their loved ones while sacrificing an income that is needed to survive.
In many instances, their loved ones don't qualify for state services, or they have been dissatisfied with their options. Without assistance, these individuals would struggle to bathe, clean their homes, run errands, manage their medications, and do light housekeeping.
What Is An Unpaid Family Caregiver?
According to the WA.gov website, an unpaid family caregiver is a spouse, relative, or friend who is caring for an adult with a functional disability and not receiving any financial compensation for that care.
In many cases, the person's children or other family members are dividing up the responsibility of caring for that person. It's a trial and struggle for these unpaid caregivers to give full support to their loved ones as they often have to neglect their own responsibilities and are unable to work or be gainfully employed due to the care that is required of their loved ones.
Unpaid caregiving isn't anything new; it's been going on for decades. In previous decades, family members would remain at home and under the care of family members until such a time as they required full-time institutional care or their passing.
What Are The Roles Of Unpaid Caregivers?
Unpaid caregivers bridge the gap to care for their loved ones in a variety of capacities. They provide assistance in daily activities or ADL (activities of daily living).
A typical day might look something like this:
7:00 a.m.: Arrive at the loved one's home to prepare breakfast and get the person out of bed and into a wheelchair.
7:30 a.m.: Help the loved one dress and prepare for the day. This may also require bathing the person.
8:30 a.m.: Clean the house, change the bedding, manage medications, and run any errands, such as the grocery store or pharmacy, to pick up more medications. Occasionally, they will take the person to a doctor's appointment.
11:30 a.m.: Prepare a lunch meal and assist the person in eating if required. Clean the kitchen and prepare the person for a nap if required, or take them on an outing, depending on the particular day's schedule. Start any laundry if required.
3:00 p.m.: Finish up the laundry, set up the evening meal, and prepare it as required. Spend some time with the loved one reading, working on a puzzle, taking a walk, etc.
5:00 p.m.: Prepare and serve dinner. Clean up after the meal and finish up any remaining chores.
9:00 p.m.: Prepare the person for bed and get them settled in. Return home, or if the person lives with the caregiver, return to the caregiver's own life until morning. Occasionally, someone will be required to do some caregiving overnight as well.
Every case works slightly differently. However, this is a fairly typical schedule for many unpaid caregivers of loved ones. I have cared for my parents for the last few years, and this is a brief synopsis of our schedule.
What Are Some Of The Challenges Faced By Unpaid Family Caregivers?
Family caregivers face many challenges. For many, they must find a way to navigate their financial obligations while caring for their loved ones in an unpaid capacity.
Many are raising a family and have to juggle caring for their loved ones while juggling getting children to and from school and extracurricular activities.
Many have to prepare separate meals to accommodate special dietary requirements for their family member as well as for their own family. This may mean that the unpaid caregiver has to prepare several different meals each day.
What Impact Does Unpaid Caregiving Have On The Caregiver?
Many would say that unpaid caregiving is a thankless job. You're required to be on call 24/7. You may have to deal with aggression in your loved one. Your loved one may resent requiring care and be stubborn and obstinate about the care that they require.
It's physically exhausting to care for your own family and act as an unpaid caregiver. There is little time for yourself. You're always on call, even in the middle of the night.
A simple fall may mean a broken bone in an elderly or disabled family member, and there may be many trips to the emergency room where the unpaid caregiver is left to find a way to juggle their own family and the elderly or disabled family member.
Other family members may heap the burden of caring for the elderly or disabled on one person, citing reasons such as "You live the closest," "You were always the favorite," "You are the one that is most able to deal with them. etc."
Is There Any Positive Impact On Unpaid Caregivers?
Ironically, everything that creates a negative for unpaid caregivers can also make for positives. Grandchildren can grow up with their grandparents nearby, and it may have a huge impact on the elderly to have the grandchildren close.
Culturally, many families have done this for generations, and it's nothing new to them to care for their aging family members or disabled family members.
The younger family members may learn from the older family members. They may learn how to be compassionate to their aging or disabled family members as well as how to care for them and plan ahead for their own aging years.
There are many pros and cons to family caregiving. Being unpaid is definitely a con and can have a huge impact on a family's financial stability. Knowing ahead of time that you may be in the position of being an unpaid family caregiver may give you a leading edge in planning for your future if you have to care for aging family members.
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