Often, we hear that the role of caretaker to the elderly is a stressful one, particularly in situations where one family member is asked to care for another. In cases where Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are present, this role becomes especially important, but also more difficult. Studies are conflicted—some suggest that it is harmful to the caregiver, others demonstrate no effect (hard to believe) and still others imply that the role of caretaker is a positive one in the lives of those who choose it.
Caregivers tend to be over the age of 64, female, and either white or African-American, and (according to a study conducted by Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University) are leading more fulfilling lives. This could be happening for any number of reasons—we feel better when we’re able to give back to an aging parent who spent years raising us or we’re able to see noticeable improvements in our loved ones. Maybe it’s that we’re simply grateful that someone is grateful to us, that we’re needed.
No matter the reason, the fact remains that providing care to family or friends can serve a dual purpose in our lives. For the person being cared for, the benefits are immediately apparent. They receive care in a setting that is likely familiar to them from people who are familiar. In all stages of dementia, this can be a source of great comfort. The collection of friends or family serving as caregiver makes the person being cared for more comfortable, undoubtedly.
The reason for a greater sense of fulfillment on behalf of the caregiver is likely more complex. It’s complex on the whole and its complex for me. As an at-home caregiver to my mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it is a role I struggle with daily but am infinitely grateful for. Taking care of my mother was at first tricky for me to grasp—this woman who had raised me largely by herself was now at the mercy of her eldest daughter. But she needs me and I go on needing her. Ultimately, she’s the same kindhearted woman she’s always been and I try daily to be the same.
In serving as a caregiver, I’ve learned that there is a learning curve, but it keeps curving and curving and spiraling. Most of us in this role are thrust into it—we approach tentatively, learning the disease and the act of preventing it or caring for it or adapting to it as we go. This never stops. I’m more patient than I’ve ever been. I’m, thanks to my mother in these years and the ones before, more grateful too.