About 30 years ago, the role of a caregiver in India was naturally accepted, as the older generation lived with the children. The elderly looked to the young members of the family not for physical assistance alone, but for psychological support as well. Consequently, they kept better health. As for caregiving, the onus was not on a single person, the family members took turns in caring for the young, the ill and the elderly.
But, today’s scenario has undergone a sea change. Nuclear families and old parents living alone — fending for themselves and living with unaccountable fears and grave illnesses — are the order of the day. And today, one person, generally the woman of the house, assumes the role of caregiver for an older person with illness or disabilities. Although caregiving can be rewarding, it is undeniably stressful as well. “There are many instances when caregiving can turn into frustration and a burden,” says R. Thara, director of Scarf India. “This is more so with disorders of the mind such as schizophrenia or that of an intellectually challenged child whose every need has to be met. Chronic neurological conditions such as strokes, Alzheimer’s or Parkinsonism can also pose problems for caregivers.”
Danger of dependency
Dr. Thara advises against taking on all responsibilities of caring for the person who is fairly active, for there is the danger of total dependency. She advises on having time and space for oneself. “Look after your health and take a break from caregiving — outings or short trips etc. And do not give up your routine — prayers, yoga, music etc. Seek professional help if you have symptoms of burn-out, depression or anxiety.”
Respite is the service most often requested by family caregivers, yet it is in critically short supply, inaccessible or unaffordable, regardless of the age or disability of the individual needing assistance. Without respite, not only can families suffer economically and emotionally, caregivers themselves may face serious health and social risks as a result of stress associated with continuous caregiving.
Thankfully, there are strategies that caregivers and communities can use to reduce stress. Organisations that provide support for persons with disabilities have developed various forms of support for carers as well. Such as CARE Cubed, established by Rama Murali, who gave up her career in the U.S. to take care of her ailing grandmother. The initiative for supporting family caregivers in Chennai was set up under the guidance of Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala (IIT-Madras) and in collaboration with IITM’s Rural Technology and Business Incubator. As a qualified public health professional with two postgraduate degrees in Health Psychology and International Health and a family caregiver herself, she is building a supportive community in the city to connect with others (mail: email@example.com ).
Inspired by the needs of their mother, Prithviraj and Jayasree opened Old is Gold in Chennai, a one-stop shop for most accessories that the elderly need — from diapers to grab bars and wheelchairs. They also offer personalised service and advice (visit >www.oldisgoldstore.com ).