Care Partners Resource

Culture of Caregiving

Does culture affect your role as a caregiver? Is there such a thing as a “Culture of Caregiving?” For the past two years working with Colorado Latino Age Wave I have been interviewing Latino caregivers throughout Metro Denver and identifying how culture affects their ability to care for their aging loved ones. I’ve been comparing my recent work, with my work over the past 6 years, where I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of caregivers from all cultures all over the country. What I have noticed is there are commonalities that are undeniable. How could so many different cultures have so much in common? Is it possible that caregivers have a culture all their own?

According to Merriam-Webster. com – Culture is:

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

Based on this definition it appears there is indeed a “Culture of Caregiving.” A unique belief system that takes over when you step into the role of caring for a loved one. It seems to happen without the awareness of the caregiver and unfortunately is not usually in their best interest.

Although an individual’s culture can affect decisions about where and how an elder loved one is cared for, it is the “Culture of Caregiving” that dictates the thinking, behavior, values and norms that govern the self-care of the caregiver. Studies support what I have witnessed; caregivers from all walks of life and cultures strongly think that they alone can provide the appropriate quality of care for their elder. This thinking creates a belief system that elevates the loved ones care and needs above those of the caregiver. For this reason the value of the caregivers self-care and health becomes second to those of their loved one.

Stepping into the role of a caregiver can lead to isolation, loneliness and depression. According to SageMinder.com when polled 40 to 70% of caregivers report symptoms of clinical depression.

The challenge with caregivers adopting this “Culture of Caregiving” is that caring for an elder is a marathon not a sprint which requires the caregiver to have mental and physical stamina. Once the loved ones needs are put ahead of the caregiver you see the health of the caregiver suffer. This is also complicated by financial challenges which can include the caregivers loss of work and/or medical coverage.

Combine this “Culture of Caregiving” with the caregivers own cultural beliefs and it is easy to see why so many caregivers struggle. In the Latino culture aging in community is the norm. Often the person caring for the elder has little say in the decision to become the caregiver. It is a role of honor and respect. This makes it difficult to put your own health and well-being above that of the elder.

Another challenge with the “Culture of Caregiving” is the name itself. When you are caring for a loved one you become their caregiver. This title becomes your identity rather than the role that you are performing. When your identity is tied to the care and health of your loved one, asking for help can feel like personal failure.

The belief of caregivers that they are the only one who can assure the well-being of their loved one is not far from true. Where they miss the mark is not understanding how important their own health is to insure their ability to make the right decisions for their loved one and endure the sometimes years that may be needed to care for the elder.

Some organizations have begun to understand the importance of educating caregivers to prioritize self-care. In 2009 after caring for my mother for 8 years I created my company CarePartnersResource.com to work with caregivers in understanding the challenges of caring for a loved one and help them identify their own self-care needs. In this work I offer therapeutic writing workshops and speak to caregivers and organizations to increase awareness about the importance of managing self-care while caring for a loved one. With the right education the “Culture of Caregiving” can be turned into a positive.

Lori Ramos Lemasters

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