A caregiver is one who regularly looks after a sick, elderly, or disabled person. Any of us may become caregivers suddenly and unexpectedly when a spouse or parent has an accident or becomes disabled from a stroke or heart attack. The caregiving obligation may present itself gradually when a parent gets older and becomes dependent on someone else to help prepare meals or assist in personal hygiene. The duration of the caregiving depends on the ability of the disabled person to recuperate. If the disability is permanent, the care must continue until the end of life, which may be a very long time.
Family member, paid helper or hospice?
Caring for someone who has become permanently disabled is a very intensive job. Family members who have to go out to work or who have to raise children usually do not have the time necessary to take care of a bedridden person. Feeding through tubes, administering medicines by injection, exercise therapy and cleaning a person who cannot get out of bed requires a lot of time. In addition, the caregiver needs to be in close proximity to the patient to be able to respond quickly. A patient with a serious condition cannot be left alone while the caregiver goes to buy groceries or get money from the bank. Someone else must stay with the patient. This is usually a paid helper or a volunteer. Volunteers may be available from local churches or hospitals. Leaving a patient who is stable alone may seem safe, but if anything happens during the absence of the caregiver, concerned neighbors may call the police or emergency services and the caregiver may be charged with neglect.
Some people prefer to send to a hospice a person who is permanently incapacitated. Hospices and nursing homes specialize in providing care for the invalid and sick. Hospices are usually chosen for the terminally ill. Long term care is expensive. Some hospices require that the patients who are admitted sign over all their assets in exchange for receiving care until the patients pass away. The hospice is usually staffed with nurses and orderlies 24 hours per day, and doctors or emergency services are available at any time. Family members may come to visit the patient to provide reassurance and family interaction. Many hospices have excellent credentials, but sometimes abuses of the patients are reported. People who choose to be the main caregivers rather than send a close family member to a hospice usually try to avoid the high cost and they want to make sure that their family members receive the best care possible.
Caring for someone day after day eventually causes stress and fatigue. A family caring for a person with a chronic and debilitating illness faces difficult decisions about medical treatment. Sometimes, it is necessary to administer pain killers like morphine to keep the sick from screaming in pain, and life-sustaining food has to be administered with syringes through tubes. It is natural to question the purpose of life or whether such life is worth living. In a hospice or palliative care, the life of patients who are terminally sick is not extended unnecessarily. While this may seem cruel, it is usually the best course of action to limit the suffering of the patient and the family.
Technology makes it possible to improve caregiving. Computer programs such as home care software can help to track the administration of medicines, doctor visits and other medical requirements. The small portable tablets also make it possible for members of the family to have a face-to-face discussion with the patient by using telecommunication programs such as Skype. Being separated by distance is not a barrier for maintaining a close relationship with a family member who requires care.