Aug 21, 2014
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.
If 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 person—a spouse or other family member, a neighbor, a friend—who 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 percent 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 services—volunteer work, recall—were valued at $450 billion in 2009.