Attention on Overwhelmed Family Caregivers and Silent Screams

Attention on Overwhelmed Family Caregivers and Silent Screams

As the video begins, a middle-aged man sits next to an older woman. She’s clearly his mother and he is her primary caregiver.

They are talking to someone who looks like a medical professional, possibly about home health care or other in-home care services. The man then suddenly opens his mouth wide to emit a huge scream – but there’s no sound, just music.

Next, we see a middle-aged woman sitting in a car. Next to her is an older man, her father. He has tubes in his nose for oxygen and obviously needs help with personal care.

She grips the steering wheel and there is another silent scream. Another silent scream follows from another overwhelmed caregiver trying to provide senior care. People watching the video naturally feel uneasy, and the AARP says that’s the point.

The video is part of a public service announcement that started airing across the country over the summer. It will air more frequently starting in November 2012 as part of National Family Caregiver Month. The AARP and the AdCouncil created the ad as a way to make sure family caregivers get the help they aren’t necessarily asking for, but it’s what they need.

“We want to help caregivers self-identify because we know, by and large, they don’t. They see themselves as: ‘I’m just being a daughter,’ and ‘I’m just being a son,’” said Liz Bradley, Communications Strategy Director for the AARP.

According to Bradley, many of these sons and daughters are Baby Boomers. They help their parents manage their bills, get to the doctor, do laundry, cook meals, and many other activities of daily living.

“Many of the folks who do that type of work don’t identify as caregivers,” Bradley said.

The average family caregiver is a woman in her 50s and she cares for a loved one for about 20 hours a week. Annually, that adds up to $450 billion.

“We see the constant plight of the working caregiver – really seeing this 50-year-old woman who is almost putting in equivalent hours to a part time job,” Bradley said. “[A family caregiver is] missing work and having her own health issues, pulling away from her own relationships and her own family to focus her time and energy to care for somebody else and not caring for themselves.”

Because of the aging population of the U.S., the number of family caregivers is growing and that will continue in the future. That sparked the AARP to join with the AdCouncil to create the PSA.

“This could rise to a major public health risk for these caregivers. They’re depleting their own assets. They’re having their own health issues when they are unsupported and frustrated and feeling alone,” Bradley said.

The hope is that through the ad campaign, a family caregiver will ask for help.

“Our goal was to connect. We realized caregivers wanted to have connections,” Bradley said. “With caregiving, things happen very sporadically and very immediately. You are sometimes thrown into a situation where you may not have others to talk with.”

Homewatch CareGivers developed a number of resources for people who are seeking help for this very purpose. The Male Caregiver Community, at www.malecaregivercommunity.com, is an online forum that gives men who are family caregivers a place to ask questions and get advice.

We also have several guides to help family members as they assist their loved ones:

  •  A guide on In-Home Senior Safety to give caregivers peace of mind when they can’t be there.
  •  The Let’s Talk guide gives advice on how to have that difficult conversation with loved ones about the need for professional care.
  •  A guide to Legal and Financial Planning for Seniors.
  •  Information on Remote Care Technology when a loved one lives far away.
  •  A guide to Senior Health and Wellness to make sure a parent is not only living longer, but better.

Additionally, classes available on the Homewatch CareGivers University provide specific help for a variety of chronic conditions and tips on the best way to manage dementia care.

The AARP also amassed a great deal of information at www.aarp.org/caregiving.

Bradley says they hope that after seeing the PSA, family caregivers are “realizing that they’re not alone and that while you may want to scream, first of all, you can – and you should – and there are resources and information and people out there to help.”

Bradley knows the television ad is shocking. The first time the staff at the AARP saw it, they felt the same way.

“It’s supposed to be unsettling. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable,” she said.

After showing it to actual family caregivers, they discovered how effective it is.

“They really responded to it. We really got them,” she said. “We weren’t trying to say: ‘We know what you are going through.’ We just tried to show what we are hearing from caregivers about the taxing emotional weight on them.”

Bradley says the PSAs will run on televisions for the next three years, but that is not the entire campaign. The AdCouncil and AARP also created print ads and two radio ads. The radio ads are very different than their TV counterparts, but accomplish the same goal. One is a list of the things a family caregiver has to do every day, over and over in what can be a difficult repetition. The other is a caregiver saying what she tells others and then what she says internally. You can listen to the radio ads or look at the print versions at caregiving.adcouncil.org.

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