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Caregivers among Hardest Hit by Economic Downturn

Some economists are concerned about lost revenues during the holiday shopping season, and many others contend with the new healthcare laws.
Meanwhile, a silent population of Americans – namely the 28 percent who provide care to loved ones – suffers from economic and spiritual hardships that go largely unnoticed.

For more than 10 years, I have worked with caregivers in my community, primarily through providing spiritual direction and pastoral support.

Lately, however, I find that I am helping caregivers navigate financial hardships more than anything else.

Economic tectonic plates continue to shift in our nation; caregivers are among the hardest hit as they care for their families, friends and loved ones.

Statistics show that caregivers spend more than $5,000 on average to care for a loved one. This does not include the emotional, physical and spiritual toil that caregivers expend in any given day.

Aging adults, who make up 70 percent of care-receivers, barely make ends meet with Social Security, and caregivers must pay for prescription costs and other expenses.

In addition, one-fifth of all loved ones move into the home of a caregiver, and one-third of all caregivers dip into savings and other assets, like retirement plans, to pay for the extra expenses.

Caregivers sometimes need to cut back on work hours to provide care, resulting in reduced benefits and wages.

Few resources for financial assistance, such as the National Family Caregiver Support Program, are available.

A growing concern I have had over the years, however, relates to what toll this hardship takes on a caregiver’s spiritual life and their relationship to a care-receiver.

As economic restraints tighten, resentment and frustration increase. This usually sends caregivers into a downward spiral as they war with their negative emotions and struggle with guilt from being angry or impatient.

Usually a caregiver will not see a difference overnight, but resentment and guilt can become debilitating bad habits over time.

The caregiver burns out, withdraws or fails to care for himself or herself. Hobbies, church attendance and simple acts, such as reading a book or watching a movie for one’s own pleasure, become long-lost pastimes.

We have heard many sermons on the two greatest commands: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). Because it seems to take money to do anything these days, we assume that it takes money to “love yourself” as well.

The greatest deficit most caregivers face is that of a deficit of self-care, especially amid economic uncertainty. Self-care does not have to be pricey, however.

In fact, all a caregiver needs is a little bit of time, even if only a few minutes a day.

Many know this to be true, but guilt makes a caregiver feel that he or she should be doing something – anything – other than sitting down to pray or read.

Cindy Elrod, a counselor at the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia located at First Conyers United Methodist Church, Conyers, Ga., recommends walking or exercising for at least 15 minutes a day. 

She also encourages caregivers to get into a support group in order to alleviate isolation.

“Building a sense of community with others in similar situations not only reinforces the sense of connectedness, it may generate avenues for relief from stress, creative problem solving and a renewed opportunity to experience themselves in positive roles other than as a caregiver,” Elrod said in an email interview.

She also promotes positive reinforcement. “Many who provide caregiving find that they get a sense of satisfaction from caregiving, and it creates a bond with the person being cared for that offsets the stress,” Elrod said. “Many report an increased confidence that they can successfully and skillfully manage the healthcare system to get their needs met.”

A commitment to spiritual disciplines also helps juggle caregiver burdens and blessings. 

Caregivers that pray regularly and keep in touch with friends from church overcome challenges more effectively than their unchurched peers.

Spiritual disciplines also include practicing confession or reconciliation within the tapestry of one’s relationship with God. 

This means receiving forgiveness for one’s perceived failures as well as forgiving a care-receiver if resentment exists in the relationship.

Some studies have revealed that many caregivers stated that forgiveness was effective in building a positive attitude as it related to caregiving.

It combats guilt and allows the caregiver to have the grace required to make time to pursue other activities outside of the caregiving role.

In an economic recession, it is important for all our caregivers to find solace in God and friends. 

The emotional and financial burdens are real, but so is the Creator who continues to envelop us in his everlasting love.

Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Ga. He blogs at Baptist Spirituality and A Tapestry of Love. He is the co-author of the book, “A Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregiving,” which is available here.