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March 2011


Lives on Loan:
The Importance of Christian Stewardship


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Lessons From a Caregiver


Our aging society calls on more of us to take care of an older adult...

Lessons From a Caregiver

by D. Ray Lewis


In the mid 1980s, my wife and I had the privilege of becoming caregivers for an elderly aunt. In 1994, near the end of that experience, I wrote an article called “Lessons I’ve Learned as a Caregiver.” Six years ago we had the unique privilege of becoming caregivers again. This time, the recipient was my mother-in-law. Recently, as I thought back over these experiences, I remembered the article. I pulled it out, dusted it off, updated it, and want to share with you what I have learned.


The Aging Dilemma

Our aging society calls on more of us to take care of an older adult. Often, home care is the only option because outside care, when available, is too expensive. Roughly eight percent of those aged 65-69 and 30% of those aged 80 and above need assistance with at least one ADL (activity of daily living).

Providing care is a voyage over largely uncharted waters. It is a job often done with little guidance, recognition, or support. Caregivers need assistance from family, friends, professional, and community re­sources. They need to know they are not alone.

Most caregivers admit their role is reward­ing but not easy. Time spent giving care may vary. Recipients may need help with bathing and dressing, cooking, cleaning and laundry, handling finances, dispensing medications, changing dressings and intravenous tubes, running errands, and the list goes on. Such tasks can be physi­cally and emotionally exhausting.



The most frequent reason for becoming a caregiver is love for the recipient and a desire to provide personal care in familiar surroundings. Still, po­tential caregivers should:

  • Have an honest, no-holds-barred conversation with the recipient and anyone else who will be a part of the process. One family member should not be expected to assume all care and expense.

  • Examine the past and present relationship of the caregiver and recipient. Both can be expected to react to stress and crises in the same ways they always have.

  • Consider any situation that affects the caregiver or recipient. Does the caregiver have family, work or retirement plans that will be limited by becoming a caregiver? What roles will those who are unable or unwilling to be the primary caregiver play?

  • Establish ground rules before the move. Decide how much, if any, the recipient will contribute toward household expenses and chores.

  • Protect the caregiver’s right to a life of his or her own. Giving up every enjoyable activity is giving up too much. The caregiver will be of little use to himself (or the recipient of care) if his entire life is sacrificed for that person.

  • Take breaks from caregiving. This is often the last thing caregivers allow themselves. That is a mistake. A daily routine of relief should be as much a part of the schedule as dispensing medication. It may be 10 minutes or two hours, but caregivers need to set aside time for time alone without the relative. Both will benefit from this.

  • Take care of self. Sacrificing physical or mental health will hasten the day when the caregiver can provide no care at all.

These considerations are very important as the decision to become a caregiver may affect many lives. Chances are good that the decisions made today will still be in effect months or even years from now.


Conquering Conflict

Caregiving responsibilities often create con­flicts with obligations to work or family. In addition, family members, friends, and neighbors may criticize the way the job is done. It is normal for the caregiver to experience the whole range of human emotions: guilt, anger, frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, fear, sadness, love, joy, and satisfaction from doing a good job.

On the other hand, the recipient must give up things that have been part of a lifetime of experiences—home, furniture, mementos. He or she is asked to accept, all at once, a new setting with different meals, shopping, transportation, and social contacts. The new routine may include adjusting to one or more other people after years of living alone. The once proud, independent person may feel helpless, angry, confused and afraid.

As you prepare for these and other potential areas of personal conflict, ask the following questions:

  • What changes have occurred or will occur in the recipient’s and my lifestyle? Will they mesh?

  • Will we have personality conflicts?

  • Will we be able to talk to one another, understand our differences, and be tolerant?

  • What if their way means only one dim light in the evening or the temperature always set on 80degrees?

  • Exactly what is important?

  • How will my spouse react to criticism?

  • How will I feel when I can no longer care for my loved one’s needs?

Easy, absolute solutions are rarely found, especially when it comes to relationships. “Life is hard by the yard,” the poet suggests. “But by the inch, it’s a cinch.”

Perhaps it’s not a cinch. But as we work at the tangled knots day-by-day, our responsibility to loved ones becomes a little easier and clearer. In the emotion-packed situation of one generation caring for another, love and laughter play important roles. When there is room in the heart for an aged loved one, things have a way of working out.


About the Writer: D. Ray Lewis joined the Board of Retirement in 1982. He became President/CEO in 2005 after serving for several years as assistant director.


©2011 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists