By Medi-Share member, Peter Rosenberger
Repeated in virtually every news outlet, Americans hear “There’s a wave coming.” Depending on the political slant, Americans can expect a red wave or a blue wave in November’s elections.
Yet another wave threatens America in ways that eclipses political ones. A gray wave.
For a lifetime, the unique post-war population of baby-boomers touched off massive changes in technology, demographics, medicine, education and numerous other social and economic areas. Now flooding into senior status, they once again alter the fabric of our society.
While bright-eyed TV personalities predict a red or blue wave, the gray wave is heralded by the tear-filled eyes and stooped shoulders of weary caregivers struggling to adapt quickly to the often-crushing burden of caregiving.
While acute care costs continue their alarming rise—and even garner passing mentions, additional problematic costs of the gray wave remain virtually unreported. The effect of this silver tsunami extends to the crushing weight upon medical facilities, long term care needs, the workplace and more.
Families that previously enjoyed amicable relationships crumble under the strain of this wave. With nearly half of all family caregivers in the workforce, employers regularly deal with schedule changes, absenteeism, family medical leave, early retirement, and employees leaving the workforce.
Compounding that, vast numbers of employees regularly arrive at work with heavy hearts and weary bodies.
Marriages feel the pinch. The crushing weight of a family member with dementia or other impairments wreaks havoc on couples. The stress of caregiving serves as a kind of “Miracle-Gro” for character defects. Issues such as selfishness, demandingness, impatience, and anger that could normally be dealt with from a safer place over a lengthier period, daily become front and center in the pressure cooker of caregiving.
Often requiring professional help, those character defects must be addressed. If not, they will be medicated with often destructive choices—which leads to soul-crushing heartache. Looking to escape the heartache, all too many marriages throw in the towel, and witness even more resources swept away in the gray wave.
While shocking pictures of elder abuse make their way into a drive-by reporting of a disturbing event, few report the abuse leveled on a caregiver by an impaired loved one. Caregivers routinely feel the riptide of the gray wave when they are cursed, grabbed, and verbally and physically assaulted by their loved one. Yet they continue showing up to do the work.
But, should the caregiver succumb to the emotional, physical, and fiscal pressures, it’s a two-for-one tragedy.
While media outlets will report on a red or blue wave on election night, millions of Americans will wake up the next morning and continue facing the gray one.
Of course, this doesn’t even factor in the additional tens of millions caring for special needs children, impaired loved ones, and other debilitating issues affecting individuals who aren’t seniors.
Answers remain elusive for caregivers. One does not solve waves or storms. But as a nation, we can come together and provide a well-lit path to safety. In doing so, we provide caregivers with the opportunity to catch their breath, take a knee if they need to—and develop healthier strategies for moving forward. We can plead with caregivers to see their own physician, and we can direct them to the shelter of pastoral care, mental health counselors, and support groups.
This issue will affect us all. If we love someone, we will be a caregiver. And the baby boomers clearly demonstrate, living long enough ensures we’ll need one.
Peter Rosenberger hosts a radio program for family caregivers broadcast weekly from Nashville on more than 200 stations. He has served as a caregiver for his wife Gracie, who has lived with severe disabilities for more than 30 years.