Caring for the caregivers

The baby-boomers are aging. The bulk of the baby-boomers are reaching the point where they are officially “old.” And old people, elders, need help: sometimes just a little, sometimes a lot. And, boy, do they resent it. These are the people who raised families, built businesses, and ran the country. And now they need help with the most ordinary things. It is galling to discover that the latest technology is beyond you. It is infuriating to realize that you are no longer a competent driver. It is devastating to realize that you need a caretaker.

Caregivers aren’t saints or angels, they are people who have taken on a job most of us would rather not do — the job of caring for our elders. This job falls, almost exclusively, to women and immigrants. As with most fields dominated by women, these jobs are poorly paid, if they are paid at all.

Often the caregiver didn’t actually choose the job, but ended up with the responsibility after a game of hot potato where all other likely candidates have escaped and the elder in question refuses to leave their home.

As we age, we deteriorate both physically and mentally. Sad but true. Eventually our “senior moments” become dangerous. In the “Waltons” version of the past, the extended family would take turns keeping an eye on Grandma or Grandpa. That doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. Now the extended family may be spread across the country and all of them work outside the home. Many people don’t have an extended family at all.

Love does not pay the rent or put groceries on the table. And minimum wage workers are not going to give the care our elders deserve.

I have known women who enjoyed caring for older people and would happily do the job if they could afford it. Our parents, our grandparents, deserve to be cared for by people who choose this work whether family member or not. But that is never going to happen until we recognize that it is a fulltime job that deserves respect and remuneration.

When are we going to face up to the fact that poor pay results in poor care.

Eldercare is a societal responsibility. Social Security is a good start, but too many people are left out of it. No credit is given for stay-at-home moms or dads who end up sandwiched between needy children and needy parents. No one pays the adult offspring who chooses to care for a struggling adult over their own career.

We need Social Security to provide reasonable stipends for family members who can’t work because their loved one needs full-time help. We need to pay our caretakers what they deserve, not what we can get away with. We need to give our seniors respect and forgive them their age-related lapses.

The only alternative to growing old is dying young. So think about the fact that you, too, will one day face these issues. We can come up with alternatives to the problem of people staying in their homes well past the point when it is safe or sensible if we try. We really need to try.


Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books in Millerton where she has worked for nearly 40 years. Email her at

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