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The Caregiver Paradox: A Hidden but Urgent Problem

There is a growing problem in our country.

What sets those in my generation apart is the sheer number of our relatives who are members of the Baby Boomer generation: 76 million, or about a quarter of the U.S. population, and all of them aging. In just 15 years, more than one in five Americans will be 65 or older.

While the Boomers’ increasing medical and financial needs continually receive appropriate and important attention, what is often missed is the true effect this will have on families.

At Caring Hearts, we call this the Caregiver Paradox.

What Is the Caregiver Paradox?

The Caregiver Paradox is when a well-meaning son or daughter tries to be both a caregiver and a family member to their aging parent, but ends up filling neither role well. The result is guilt, resentment, exhaustion, and overall unhappiness for the caregiver, and sometimes broken relationships between family members, friends, coworkers, and more.

While most of us are more than happy to take care of Mom or Dad when the time comes—I was proud to help my aging and ailing grandmother, mother, and father—needs can escalate quickly and without warning. Family caregivers who have no problem working a few chores “here and there” into their schedule can find their loved one suddenly requiring specialized skills.

The Caregiver Paradox is when a well-meaning son or daughter tries to be both a caregiver and a family member to their aging parent, but ends up filling neither role well.  Click to Tweet.

As you cycle every day through your roles of parent, child, spouse, employee, friend, and caregiver, inevitably, your caregiver duties start to grow, you have less time to fulfill other roles, and you end up losing the ability to play any part well. Drowning in responsibility, you become resentful of those you’re trying to help because their needs have taken over your life. Without warning and without truly realizing it’s happening, you’re stuck in the Caregiver Paradox.

The family caregivers who come to us for help are often at the end of their rope. They have tried to do it all on their own but finally realized it was time to ask for help.

My wish is to help families avoid falling into the Caregiver Paradox. I believe that’s possible. The answer is really quite simple.

We Can Solve This Problem

In order to meet this growing challenge, Americans require a stronger support system—we have to be willing to accept help.

Conversations about aging need to happen sooner.

Many of us have an idea of what will happen when Mom or Dad starts to need more help at home, but how many of us have actually talked to them about it? It’s of the utmost importance that you make time to have these critical conversations with your aging relatives now, while all of you have enough time and energy to consider all your options.

There is only one ugly alternative: waiting. Waiting until the signs of a critical need for more help becomes impossible to ignore.

Let’s start to have conversations about our parents’ and other elderly loved ones’ aging plans earlier and more frequently. My hope is that when you get to the point of requiring extra help, you and your loved ones will be prepared.


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