There’s so much more to caregiving than government ‘support’ – Mero Moment, 7/8/14

elderlyThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Big-government advocates at AARP tell us that Utah ranks dead last in support for family caregivers. To be clear, AARP means that Utah ranks dead last in providing government support for family caregivers. A claim to which most Utahns would respond, “Well, isn’t that the cultural point of family caregiving?” We care for our own loved ones for a variety of reasons, including that most of us feel as if caring for our elderly parents and relatives is our personal responsibility.

The AARP research isn’t news. It’s politics. They admit that 89 percent of adults with disabilities in Utah are satisfied with their quality of life. Nearly every solution AARP has to the genuine needs of elderly Americans involves your tax dollars.

I was 26 years old when I asked to be and was appointed legal guardian for my disabled sister, my only sibling. I remember our small two-bedroom apartment in Provo back then. I was a student at BYU. My sister shared a bedroom with our two young daughters. When our son was born, we put his crib in the living room. We sacrificed to care for her.

Today, my elderly parents and my sister live with us. Mom is at a rehabilitation facility due to a broken hip. Dad has dementia and my sister has developed even more health complications. My wife and I live in our basement because my parents and sister can’t go up and down steps. Caregiving is what we do. We feed them. We shop for them. We handle their finances. We drive them to appointments. We keep them company. We have their health care proxies.

I think I can speak confidently for all family caregivers when I say – we’re exhausted. My wife and I hardly have time for each other. Family caregivers do need support but not like AARP thinks.

Here’s the support we could use. First and foremost, we appreciate everyone’s concern for our situation but advice from the peanut gallery on what works best in caregiving gets tiresome. Yes, we get it. We could do this or that for those we care for – all great ideas, until you’re the one having to do them. Family caregivers in the arena don’t need the opinions of spectators about how to do our job better. We certainly don’t need government bureaucrats poking into our business telling us about the rights of elderly people. The first rule in any discussion about caring for elderly or disabled family members is keep your thoughts to yourself unless you’re actually going to lift a finger to help.

Yes, family caregivers need a break now and then. My wife and I are fortunate that we have wonderful adult children who stay at our home or otherwise help with meals and transportation when we’re at work or out of town. This is a perfect example of why family matters. But good friends and neighbors are there to help, and are willing to help, even if we don’t want to burden them.

The last thing family caregivers should do is reach out to government. There is no faster way to lose intimacy and independence for you and those you care for than to turn over your elderly or disabled loved ones to government programs. Government help is there when you need it. But it should be a last resort.

Pushing more government programs for family caregiving only serves to destroy an important part of our private lives and family culture. Family caregiving isn’t easy – sometimes it’s downright difficult – but that’s what we do because it’s the right thing to do.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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