Who is a Caregiver? What is the challenge?

Posted on September 29, 2011 by Michael Corley, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Now that this initiative is officially named “Caregiver Connect,” a logical question is, “Who or what is a caregiver?”  The first picture which comes to my mind is a person taking care of an older person who can no longer live by himself or herself.

But my thinking is actually too narrow. The definition of caregiver is much, much broader than this.  According to Wikipedia

You are a caregiver if you:

- Take care of someone who has a chronic illness or disease.

- Manage medications or talk to doctors and nurses on someone’s behalf.

-  Help bathe or dress someone who is frail or disabled.

- Take care of household chores, meals, or bills for someone who cannot do these things alone.

So, if you have a child, you are a caregiver. (This one is so obvious that I am embarrassed I never looked at caregiving this way.)  If you help a neighbor with meals, you are a caregiver. Of course, if you are taking care of a loved one with a chronic disease (Alzheimer’s, cancer, MS, etc.), you are also a caregiver.

So, as you can see, all of us are or will be caregivers.  The question is to what degree and in what situation?

When we became parents, we expected to become caregivers. This was planned and this was joyous. When we needed to take care of someone with an illness, we didn’t expect to become caregivers. This was not a joyous situation, but we knew it was temporary. If the illness is chronic, then this certainly is not a joyous situation. This is when the reality of being a long-term caregiver sets in.

It is this last group of people, caregivers of chronically ill or frail, which is increasing in our country. It is this group that needs to recognize and understand the local services available to them. This is an incredible challenge because each locale is different…each county, city and even subdivision has its own services and “gaps in service.”

This is the focus of this initiative – connecting caregivers to local services.  Much more to come….

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