They say time is the great equalizer. No matter how fast, strong or smart we are, time has the potential to take those qualities away from us. As we age, our capabilities tend to decline, leaving us to rely on others for assistance to do the things that were once simple or trivial. Such is the role of the caregiver: to help loved ones maintain the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed as much as possible.
Blount Memorial licensed clinical social worker Edward Harper says the tasks of caregiving typically fall to two types of people: children and spouses. “In the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of adult children caring for parents who are living alone in their advancing age,” Harper said. “Their symbiotic lifestyle is quietly underwritten by family caregivers who are on the phone multiple times a day and are on constant visual alert. Caregiver vigilance has progressed to hyper-vigilance. This level of care demands time and energy at the expense of marital, child and grandchild relationships,” Harper added. “The point of the ‘we can manage by ourselves’ plan is for the parents to stay independent, keep their dignity and retain the same routine so as to not become a burden to others. However, this fierce independence and rejection of assistance from their adult children very often results in a mid-crisis rally by the family to try to apply stopgap care. This situation can be complicated further by a lack of documented information and the authority to activate resources,” he added.
Harper says, for someone caring for a spouse, the risks go beyond interpersonal relationships. “The sadness of spousal caregivers in their 50s and 60s has become all too commonplace. Early onset of cognitive impairment, neuromuscular disorders, cardiovascular disorders and strokes occurring in middle-age can be a complete derailment of daily life and hopes for the future,” he said. “Resources at this phase of life are fewer, while fatigue, anxiety and fear are high. This puts the spousal caregiver in a state of agony over the prospects of not being able to sustain in-home care for their significant other. These caregivers don’t give up or give in, they simply give out,” Harper explained. “Fatigue and sadness are caustic to their minds, bodies and moods. To them, the loss of the capacity to give care is a failure that comes with an unrelenting guilt that they are abandoning their spouse,” he added.
Through his work with Blount Memorial Senior Services, Harper has encountered many caregivers from the community, and says that, despite all the troubles and hardships being a caregiver can bring, caregivers remain perseverant. “As the number of caregivers grows, they reach out to others, form support groups, accept care for themselves and, on a daily basis, share their strength, hope and experience with others who give care to another adult,” he said.
After a long break due to COVID-19 restrictions, Blount Memorial Senior Services’ free Caregiver Support Group, led by Harper, has returned to its normal schedule. The group meets the first and third Tuesday of each month from 10-11 a.m. at Vienna Coffee House in Maryville. Harper also offers free, one-on-one caregiver consultations in his office at the Blount Memorial MorningView Village Senior Community. For more information, call 865-977-5744.