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The 36-Hour Day (Grand Central Life & Style) is a
handbook familiar to many caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and
other forms of dementia. That seemingly mysterious title is no mystery
to the caregivers. They know from plenty of experience that they would
need not just the regular 24 hours but a solid day and a half to touch
all the bases they’re called on to touch during a typical day.
this makes caregiving sound like difficult work, that’s because it is.
Yet many millions of Americans are doing it today, and many millions
more will be involved in doing it in the years just ahead. Here is an
area where the Church and especially the parishes should roll up their
sleeves and lend a hand sooner rather than later.
There is a
deeply religious sense in which all of us are called to be caregivers to
one another. If anyone doubts that, take another look at the parable of
the Good Samaritan. As it’s commonly used today, though, “caregiver”
has a special meaning. It’s the name for a persona spouse or other
family member, a neighbor, a friendwho provides unpaid assistance in
the activities of daily living and/or medical care to somebody else who
needs it. (There are of course paid caregivers too.)
By one count,
the overall total of caregivers in America now stands at more than 65
million, which is around 30% of the adult population. The number is
certain to rise as the number of elderly grows to 71.5 million by 2030.
Two-thirds of the caregivers help someone over the age of 50, and of
these about 15 million care for persons with Alzheimer’s or some other
dementia. Caregiver servicesvolunteer work, recallwere valued at $450
billion in 2009.
In the nature of things, some caregivers spend
more time at it and some spend less, but no one doubts that the burden
can be very great. Authors Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins write in The 36-Hour Day that ongoing care for a dementia sufferer “can be an exhausting and emotionally draining job.”
“It is quite possible to collapse under the load,” they add.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet reports that about
73% of caregivers in a survey said prayer helps them cope. A recent,
helpful volume is A Year of Grace: 365 Reflections for Caregivers by
Laraine Bennett (Our Sunday Visitor). But besides prayer, these people
need direct outside assistance. Here’s where the parishes come in.
literature on this subject repeatedly makes the point that caregivers
need regular time offa couple of hours to go out for lunch, take in a
movie, maybe just sit in the park. To make that possible, why couldn’t
the local parish run a modest community service program recruiting
volunteers to go into homeseither on an as-needed basis or regularlyin
order to spell the regular caregivers in tending their disabled or aged
Some parishes probably already do something along these
lines. Others easily could. Many have retired parishioners in good
health and with time on their hands who are looking for something
worthwhile to do. With a little encouragement and coordination from the
parish, this could be it.
It could also be an important part of
the answer for caregivers who are feeling the strain of struggling with
36-hour days. Some problems have no solution, but others do. This may be
a problem with a solutionand the parishes could help provide it.