Three cheers for the caregivers. Women everywhere care for their children and loved ones. They mostly go about their duties quietly and unnoticed except for Mother’s Day once a year. But other women care for other people’s loved ones and children as well as their own. It is either their job, or even more admirably, they volunteer.
Mentally and Physically Disabled Need Caregivers
I spent a week noticing these women. At my local park they push along disabled people in wheelchairs, or assist them to amble along. They find a picnic table and settle them, while another caregiver unpacks the picnic. Last Monday, I watched as a young caregiver stroked a disabled boy’s head for the best part of an hour. Whenever she stopped, he began to rock in his seat and wail loudly. How do they have such patience and empathy? Three cheers for the caregivers.
But it is not just the mentally challenged that need care. There are younger disabled persons who have to go into care, or require care in the community. Like the ones in my park, they live at home with families, but need care in the day, while their family goes to work. These caregivers are either employees of NDIS organisations, or are volunteers. Three cheers for the caregivers, these women who care.
Three Cheers for the Caregivers in Nursing Homes
Then, on Wednesday, I visited the nursing home where my mother resides. For years my dog came with me, and we had fun doing pet therapy. But now he is too old and snappy like my mum, so I settle for a chat with the oldies. It gives the caregivers a much-needed break.
This time I chose to chat to the group about Agatha Christie, queen of mysteries. I choose topics the ‘oldies’ can relate to. The term ‘oldies ‘ is a bit of a misnomer because the average age of the residents seems to be dropping. It used to be 85 ten years ago when Mum first went in, due to her multiple sclerosis but now the average age is about 75.
Increased Number of Men
Also, I now notice more men, many not even with grey hair. I asked the occupational therapist about this, and she told me that many men even in their sixties are admitted for mental, rather than physical conditions. Indeed, these men just seem to sit and gaze into space. They were off with the fairies, maybe? I enquired, curious. No, apparently, they are just ‘absent’, she replied.
Whereas nursing homes used to be for the physically disabled, frail, very old and dying, now they are filling with dementia patients who are not so elderly and many of them are men. Very interesting.
I chatted away with the patients as best I could despite my cumbersome PPE equipment of mask and vizi shield. How do these workers stand wearing this stuff all day? I became breathless after ten minutes. As I sipped my tea, allowable without mask, I kept banging the cup and biscuit into my still attached clear vizi shield. This really amused the resident ladies.
They told me how grateful they were to not wear PPE. I’m sure the morbidity rate would rise if they wore that stifling apparel. The women were mostly bright and responsive and did well in my Agatha quiz. But the men just sat and stared. Where were their minds?
Sadly, No Spark of Interest
Maybe it was the topic, you might say. I thought so too, so decided to run a film clip of the Poirot express, a steam train that runs through Dartmouth countryside to Agatha’s Greenway estate. But even a glorious black puff and billy steam train with tooting whistle and roaring steam puffs raised no masculine interest. The gentlemen residents just sat staring, but not at the screen, sipping their tea in silence.
Apparently, men are more prone to early dementia than women, but women are more prone to the forgetful Alzheimers type dementia. Either fact is a worry and with an ageing population, implies a heavy burden on the aged care sector. So, we will need more and more of these precious caregivers.
Hormones and risk factors play a role in whether a person loses his faculties or not. But lifestyle can help. Did these men not keep their minds busy and stimulated? Did they fail to tap into their imagination and dreams? All these things help avert dementia, even if genetically prone. Whatever, we will know more as research continues into the ageing process. Funds go this way now as the aged are a larger cohort in society.
Army of Health Care Workers Needed
In previous generations, the aged lived at home and also died earlier. Mostly, a spinster daughter would care for her parents. But now with working women, fractured families and nuclear families, old people can become family outcasts who often need full-time care. Hence the extraordinary number of nursing homes and the amazing army of health care workers.
We no longer routinely institute people into asylums and throw away the key. The disabled and mentally challenged are much more visible in the community. If they need dedicated 24/7 care, they can end up in nursing homes whatever their age.
Maybe it is because I am getting old myself, but everywhere they are building over fifties complexes, retirement homes and nursing homes where we can transition in our twilight years. At the last stop, an army of caregivers will look after us. The are women who are not our family, but often become extended family because they are there, and they care.
If we are fortunate, we can stay in our homes and be self-sufficient. Let’s hope so. If we keep imagining this, keep dreaming of our independence, this could help.
Wives as Caregivers
My week of noticing caregivers was not over. On Thursday afternoon, I collapsed on the couch to watch a movie. I love biographical films because they are true and often historical. My interest is history and I write historical fiction. I found the film, ‘Breathe‘ about a polio sufferer, Robin Cavendish and his wife, Diana. Struck down by polio in Africa where he grew tea, Cavendish could not even breathe alone.
Only 28 and paralysed, Robin had to live in a hospital bed as a virtual vegetable Depressed understandably, he had no will to live until his young wife insisted on his discharge into her care. This was unheard of at the time, as Cavendish needed an external iron lung to stay alive. But Diana was not to be dissuaded and a friend, a handy inventor type, fashioned the first portable bed then wheelchair with breathing pump attached, for his stricken young friend.
Lives Transformed by a Caring Wife
Soon, surrounded by his wife and baby son, Cavendish had a life. Later, he even travelled in his ambulant bed/ wheelchair, much to the astonishment of the public. Previously, the disabled were hidden away in homes or hospitals, not on display in the streets and parks of the world.
Robin went on to live happily and more fulfilled than spending life in a hospital bed attached to a bedside breathing device. He elected to die when his son was a teenager, due to compromised lung function. But his life could not have been as amazing without his wife, the devoted caregiver.
Stephen Hawking, the inspirational writer and cosmologist, also had the support of such a woman, his wife, Jane. She refused the doctors, who wanted to turn off his ventilator when they found he had motor neurone disease. Despite his handicap, she was his champion.
Again, three cheers for caregivers. What would many do without their devotion, sacrifice, and energy? Their selflessness transforms lives.
Photosource; Raychan on Unsplash
Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.