Being a caregiver, 24 hours a day

A parenting column by Graham Hookey

  • Sep. 30, 2011 4:00 p.m.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a parent, or a caregiver to a parent, one of the greatest challenges faced in either of those roles is the fact that you are on duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Naturally, the burden of that duty depends largely on the independence of the child or the elderly.

We often refer to the elderly as being in their second childhood as a result of the changes they go through as they become less independent.  Indeed, in everything from sleep patterns to bodily functions, age has a way of bringing us full circle to our existence as a baby.

As any parent of a baby will recall, it’s pretty exhausting being the sole person on whom the responsibility of child care falls.  Of course, in most cases, there is a partner to help, although the distribution of work may not necessarily be even.

In elder care, the family caregiver generally is alone in meeting the needs of a spouse or parent. And if carrying around an infant seems physically draining at times, try lifting and moving a full-grown adult.

Perhaps more demanding in elder care, from a psychological perspective, is the understanding that things are not going to get better. A parent can look forward to greater independence of a child, but someone in elder care recognizes pretty quickly that the challenges are going to get even greater and the need for their support is only going to increase. The time frame is often indeterminable.

I listened painfully, recently, to a woman who told me that in a family of five children, she is the only one who is able to support the increasing needs of her aging and faltering mother.  Although she is happy to be in such a position to help, she is also trying to balance the demands of a full-time job, her own family and the needs of her mother.  Her days off work are spent at her mother’s, working just as hard.

Most difficult, she said, is the fact that she simply cannot find time to rest and recover herself.

I  have heard this from numerous people who end up being the primary caregiver to aging parents or spouses.  It is difficult to find personal time for rest and relaxation.

Naturally, this is most challenging for aging spouses, who, themselves, are struggling with energy levels, yet find themselves working harder to support their loved one.

Family physicians are well aware that a caregiving spouse or child is almost at as much risk as the person who needs the care. They are quick to remind the caregivers that they must take care of themselves, as well, since their faltering health would certainly not make things any easier.

Without a supportive network of relatives, friends and social programs, that suggestion is a lot easier made than achieved.

Many caregivers just get on with what they know must be done and are grateful for the few moments of support they might get from others.

• Graham Hookey is an educational and parenting writer. Email him at

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