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Vol. LVIII, No. 14
July 14, 2006

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ORWH Caregiving Seminar: Unique Challenges and Rewards

Dr. Peter Rosenbaum of the CanChild Centre for Childhood at McMaster University speaks at a recent ORWH caregivers seminar.  
"Caregivers' lives are complex and their health and well-being are at risk," said Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, professor of pediatrics and co-director of the CanChild Centre for Childhood at McMaster University. He spoke at the recent ORWH Caregivers seminar, part of the Women's Health Seminar series. He described ways care systems can affect families. According to Rosenbaum, better caregiving is associated with better outcomes for the entire family. CanChild Centre focuses on family-centered care that serves children with special needs. "We need to focus on patterns of caregiving in families, perceptions in families and on the protective factors in family-centered caregiving," Rosenbaum emphasized.

Going beyond the family setting with young children and looking at the situation created by aging baby boomers and increased life spans, Dr. Sharon Lewis, professor, Schools of Nursing and Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center, described the emotional and biological issues involved with caregiving. Calling caregivers "the hidden victims," Lewis said the U.S. is having a "caregiving crisis" and that "44 million Americans now provide care to a family member." Additionally, 80 percent of long-term care is provided by family caregivers, and this, she said, is "a journey for which most of us are unprepared."

Lewis described the many uncertainties that face caregivers, including a deep sense of sadness at the "loss" of a partner and a range of other psychological, social and economic difficulties. To counteract these pressures, Lewis described her 8-week multifaceted program that includes looking carefully at the caregiver's quality of life from both a physical and emotional level. She found both gender and ethnic differences in levels of stress among the caregivers. White female children were the most stressed and males did the best in viewing caregiving as a "business task."

  Dr. Anne Wilkinson of the Center for Palliative Care Studies, RAND Health, says changes in U.S. health over the past century have created a unique need for caregivers.
Caregiving at end-of-life has its own unique set of issues. Dr. Anne Wilkinson, director of the Center for Palliative Care Studies, RAND Health, discussed how a century of change in the health of this country has created a unique need for caregivers.

In 1900, with an overall life expectancy of 46 years, most people died without years of disability. Today, with an overall life expectancy of more than 78 years, there can be substantial and long-term disability. Adding to the complexity of end-of-life care is the fact that 70 percent of those needing assistance are women 75 years or older who have few financial resources. Wilkinson stressed the great need for our health care system to reflect differences in the course of illness so that a substantial caregiving system can be created.

Finally, Chloe JonPaul described her personal experiences as a caregiver that began over 30 years ago with her grandparents. Ultimately, she also took care of both of her parents. She emphasized the importance of nurturing yourself if you are a caregiver and using humor, spirituality, meditation and music to accept your role. As the Maryland state representative for the National Family Caregivers Association, JonPaul said taking care of your own needs is "a caregiver's right as a person and not a luxury."

The next Women's Health Seminar will be "Diabetes" on Thursday, Nov. 2 in Lipsett Amphitheater, Bldg. 10.

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