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Women and Caregiving: Are They Synonymous?

by Betty Soldz

Caregiving for a sick and aging spouse, companion, sibling or parent is still seen as a woman's responsibility.  There are over seven million caregivers in the US and 75% of them are women.  It's quite likely that sometime you'll be called upon for caregiving assistance. 

The role of women today has changed dramatically.  Many women have family and/or work obligations that conflict with caregiving responsibilities. We have become a very mobile society and many of us live far from those who need care.  Due to the increased life expectancy, many women who are called upon to care are in their late 60's, 70's or even older. 

Caregiving, especially of a spouse,  comes at a time in a woman's life when she should be thinking about who will care for her in her own later years when she may well be alone. Many women who visit this website are thinking ahead to their own retirement, have already retired and are looking forward to the opportunities the years ahead can offer.  Others are working, raising their children and at the same time trying to care for parents and other family members. 

What is a woman's responsibility?  What are her options? Every caregiving situation is affected by the caregiver's age, health, finances and  family network. It's also impacted by where the person needing care (care recipient) lives, and what they can do for themselves.  Always make an effort to involve the person you are caring for in the actual planning aspects of their care and allow them to do as much as they are able to do.

If you are 50 or 55 years of age you will be affected by this task differently than if you are older. The younger you are the easier it is to handle this physically and mentally exhausting task. However, if you are employed and raising children this could be daunting. If you are in poor health this, too, adds to your burden.  If you or your care recipient have adequate resources it's possible to purchase services, usually referred to as formal services. If one has a very low income, help may be obtained from government programs but, unfortunately, many of those who need or give care fit in the middle. In spite of available formal services many caregivers, especially spouses, do not seek formal help until they have been caregivers for four years or more.  This is because they fear becoming impoverished and worry about how they will be able to purchase services when they need them.

If the one who will need care has a caregiving friendly home without stairs to climb and with safeties such as grab bars in the tub and toilet, etc.,  or they live in an assisted living or life-care facility, your task will be easier.  Lastly, if you have a large family network you may be able to get some assistance with caregiving.

What do you need to do to prepare yourself for this job?

  • Investigate availability of services and how to access them
  • Determine how to pay for services 
  • Investigate care managers
  • Develop a plan to prioritize needs
  • Investigate alternative housing
  • Learn how to ask for help
  • Learn what changes make a home "disabled friendly"
  • Organize care recipient's personal and emergency information
  •  Recognize your personal limitations

In other words, knowledge, preparation, having a plan and setting limits lead to effective caregiving. 

The first place to start in seeking the information you need is at your Area Agency on Aging.  Many will have a resource list of available services to assist caregivers. Once you know what services are available you need to consider how they can be financed. 

If the care recipient has Long Term Care Insurance (see Betty's previous article Long Term Care Insurance), it will assist in paying for services. The care recipient's or family's assets may be sufficient to provide needed services.  Those with low income and assets should look into public programs such as Medicaid and In-home Support Services (IHSS); more information about these services can be found through the Social Services or Human Services department in the phonebook under County Offices. 

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