Unexpected Caregivers: Their Challenges and Rewards

Unexpected caregivers receive a challenging yet rewarding role that requires sacrifices and commitment.

The Need for Caregiving is Unavoidable

Every person will reach a point when he will need assistance and extra care from somebody else. Age, disabilities and terminal illnesses will snatch a person's ability to take care of his own self. In an America, approximately 40 million family members are performing caregiving tasks. These individuals are not professionally trained, but with unavoidable circumstances that left a parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling or any other family member helpless and incapable of surviving alone, they have to become unexpected caregivers.

The National Academy of Sciences that around 15 percent of family members attending to the needs of their loved ones are in the range of 20 and 44 years old. 25 percent of family caregivers aged 45 to 54. In a study conducted by Feylyn Lewis, it was revealed that individuals at 18 to 25 years old, subjected to unexpected caregiving, may lose their chances of finishing school. On the other hand, individuals in their midlife are compelled to sacrifice career promotions while others had to go through early retirement. Some mothers and fathers also sacrifice their time with their children to take care of their loved ones.

Some Unexpected Caregivers Are Under 18

There are individuals who are called to provide all their time and attention to their loved ones at an early age. Just like any other caregivers, these very young people are exposed to multiple and most of the time, overwhelming responsibilities. Instead of going to school and completing their homework, they have to cook, do the laundry and clean the house instead. With their developing bodies, they have to endure physical activities like lifting. Some teenagers are busy making themselves attractive with makeup and fashionable clothes while young caregivers are focused on keeping their loved ones hygienic and comfortable. At an early age, they get to learn the importance of financial management. They realize the value of money and how important it is in maintaining comfort in one's life. People say that teens are in the process of discovering life and that emotional support should be provided to those who are in their adolescence stage. But young caregivers experience the opposite situation. Instead of receiving emotional support, they are the ones giving it to their terminally ill or disabled loved ones. They remain present at times when the patient needs someone to talk to or listen to them.

What Physical and Mental Demands to Expect in Caregiving?

An unexpected caregiver should be prepared to do physically and mentally demanding activities daily. Your morning exercises include helping your patient get off his bed. In some instances, you will also need to wash his body, change clothes or diapers and feed him. Some patients may also require you to take them out for a stroll. The whole day will require you to accomplish routines. You are also expected to do things even without formal training.

Since many of these individuals are not nurses, physical therapists nor doctors by profession, they would have to learn and do injections, insertion of intravenous fluid, administration of drugs and physical therapy. These people are also in a situation wherein they have to become knowledgeable of different matters including finances and insurances. They are left to manage the patient's financial and legal responsibilities. You will have to be a motivator, a listener and a friend all at the same time.

Caregiving is Expensive

Some families are capable of shouldering expenses needed for taking care of their terminally ill or disabled loved ones. However, if you are an unexpected caregiver and you did not prepare funds to cover the medical needs of your patient, it will be a financially challenging role for you. Some caregivers will opt to do everything on their own to avoid additional expenses. These people often feel burned out because of the physical, mental and emotional demands of their roles.

Imagine, while these people provide physical and emotional support to their patients, they also have to ensure that all household chores are accomplished every day. Instead of hiring a helper, they will also do the laundry, cooking, and house cleaning all at the same time. Some will also try to avoid spending for themselves to secure sufficient funds for their patients. Remember, these people often have limited sources of finances because some of them already left their job for their loved ones.

Even the Unexpected Events Can Be Fulfilling and Fun

Caregiving may be laborious and demanding. Still, even the unexpected caregivers can attest that the role can bring fulfillment and joy. Taking care of someone may also be considered a privilege. This means that being the one responsible for caregiving makes you the most trusted person. It may also mean that you are the most selfless and understanding among the members of the family.

Family caregivers are known for their unparalleled commitment and sacrifice. Most of them leave their dream jobs to help their terminally ill loved ones. It may be frustrating at first, but at the end of the day, it's the most special way of saying “thank you” to your parents, saying “I love you” to your children, or telling your spouse that your vow to stay through thick and thin is real. Even when the situation leaves you on a heartbreak or depression, you will come to realize that you're doing it because you love the person, really hard.

True Stories of Unexpected Caregivers

Some children think that their responsibility of attending to their parents' needs will only commence when the latter reach their senior years. However, some family members start earlier and sometimes, they become unexpected caregivers.

Just like in the case of Gina Rinehart who had to take care of her father, Floyd Hall at the time she least expected. Floyd was diagnosed with a lung tumor, and it had to be removed as soon as possible. Gina, who was a special-education instructor had to fly back to her hometown with a thought that she would only need to allot two weeks of her time to help 68 years old, Floyd. To her surprise, the surgical team revealed that her father was already terminally with stage 4 cancer. It was the time she realized that she will become an unexpected caregiver. She, her husband and children had many plans like enjoying a trip to Europe, but her dad's health status changed all of that.

Gina and the rest of the family members were in an unexpected state. She knew that at some point, she would have to take care of his father. However, she did not expect it to happen at a very early time. She was at the peak of her career at the age of 46. While Floyd had always been active. In fact, he spent most of his time working in a food bank while accompanying his 95-year-old mom.

In the story of Colleen Kavanaugh, she described how her mother's situation had to change her plans of rebuilding her life after divorce. The 33-year-old woman was about to find a new job to support her 5-year-old son. She was ready to be independent and self-supportive once again. However, the situation of her mother and father pushed her to her financial limits. In 2009, her mother died of breast cancer while her father passed away in 2013 due to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Since she allotted so much of her time to her parents while ensuring the continuity of her child's education, she became too busy that she had to quit her job. For seven years, she had no social security contributions and income. She felt financially depleted and disconnected with her peers. She described how she lost time for her friends from emergencies or physical exhaustions. She felt isolated. She was jealous of her friends who constantly posted happy stories in social media. She felt angry for not having enough time for her child. Eventually, with the help of support groups, she learned to take pride in her role.

This real-life situation is an example of an “off time event” referring to a normal experience, which is taking care of a senior family member, at an unexpected moment. Typically, children become caregivers of their parents when they reach the age 55. Hence, many people do not foresee themselves caring for their loved ones when they are only in their 30s to 40s.

Caregivers Need Support Too

Caregivers are known for their courage and patience, but this does not mean that they are not requiring support. The community plays an important role in providing support and assistance not only to train but also to unexpected caregivers. The latter are not professionally skilled in their roles, and therefore, some situations may become too overwhelming, challenging and tiring for them. In the case of caregivers under age 18, support is essential so that these people will not completely lose their personal well-being including their relationships with their friends and classmates and their dream to finish school and get a job.

Caregivers should also be reminded that their physical health is important. All the sleepless nights could make their bodies compromised. Repetitive lifting may actually lead to injuries or long-term damage to their postures. Sometimes, giving all your time and attention to your patients may actually cause you to have a poor diet and lose time for regular exercise. These people should also keep their connections with the outside world. Their friends should constantly remind them that they are not alone. Combating stress will be difficult if caregivers will always be in isolation. Just like their patients, they also need people willing to talk to them and hear their sentiments once in a while.

Support groups may also help them understand that losing their jobs or leaving school is part of their commitment and sacrifice for their loved ones. These groups should also assure them that these opportunities can come again, but the lives of their family members are already termed. Unwanted caregivers should constantly be reminded that they have noble roles and that they are appreciated. These will help them remember that despite all the things they gave up, they can gain priceless memories with their loved ones up to their final moments.

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