Rewards of Caregiving Can Be Many
By Lisa M. Petsche
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Much is written about the physical, psychological, emotional and financial demands involved in caring for an older relative and the stress that can result. Unfortunately, relatively little attention is given to the intrinsic rewards of informal (unpaid) caregiving, which can be numerous and varied.
The following are some of the benefits most commonly identified by caregivers:
- A closer relationship with the care receiver, especially if the two parties previously lived at a distance, or one or both led busy lives and simply didn’t spend much time together. In some cases a relative’s illness leads to reconnection after a period of estrangement, constituting a “fresh start” for the relationship.
- Character development– for example, increased patience, sensitivity, reliability, flexibility, resourcefulness and assertiveness.
- Mastery of practical knowledge and skills that make caregiving safer, easier and more pleasant for both parties– for example, learning proper transferring and bathing techniques and behavior management strategies. Caregivers may also develop record-keeping and general organization skills that can help them in other areas of their life. In addition, some caregivers – typically wives - learn skills such as financial management, home maintenance and driving and maintaining a vehicle, which previously were handled exclusively by their relative. This expansion of their repertoire of skills increases their independence and self-confidence.
- Increased insight into their strengths and limitations – for instance, realizing they are stronger and more capable than they have given themselves credit for; recognizing that they can’t – and shouldn’t - do it all alone.
- Increased compassion for and desire to help people who are going through a difficult time, especially those who are ill or disabled and any loved ones assisting them.
- Re-thinking of values and priorities. Caregivers of people with dementia or a life-threatening illness, for example, report learning to live in the present and appreciate the simpler things in life that make it enjoyable, such as music, a good cup of tea or coffee, the sights and sounds of nature and the company of family and friends.
- The satisfaction of doing something meaningful. The experience of caregiving can be so fulfilling that it leads some informal caregivers to subsequently pursue a career as a personal support worker or other type of healthcare professional, hire themselves out as a private companion or live-in caregiver, or volunteer as a friendly visitor in seniors’ homes or in a care facility.
- Opportunity for reciprocation. Many family members welcome the chance to give back to someone who has done much for them, particularly in terms of nurturing. This is especially so for offspring looking after parents and husbands looking after wives. If the relationship has not been demonstrative, family members who take on a caregiving role often appreciate all the more the opportunity to express love, admiration and appreciation in tangible ways.
- The satisfaction of fulfilling a commitment or perceived obligation – for example, living out one’s marital vows (“in sickness and in health”), following a cultural or religious imperative to care for elders as an expression of respect and gratitude, or honoring an earlier promise to help the person age in place.
To help ensure that informal caregiving remains a rewarding experience over time, it’s important for those providing care to make use of available help. This includes accepting offers of assistance from family members and friends as well as taking advantage of community services that can help maximize the care receiver’s independence and assist the caregiver with necessary tasks. Doing so improves the quality of life of not only the caregiver but also the care receiver.
Potential community resources include personal emergency response systems, grocery delivery services, meals on wheels, volunteer driving programs, accessible transportation, outpatient clinics, therapeutic day programs, recreational programs, friendly visiting, home healthcare services, caregiver support groups and respite care.
Information on what’s available locally can be obtained from a hospital or community social worker; the care receiver’s primary physician or other involved healthcare professionals; the Area Agency on Aging, public health office or community information service; the local chapter of the organization associated with the care receiver’s disease (for example, the Parkinson Foundation); and other caregivers.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.