Supporting Female Caregivers
Dementia is often referred to as “the other pandemic,” affecting over 6 million Americans. A significant number of people, primarily women, find themselves caring for family members with dementia. They find themselves isolated in their role, and this can lead to depression and other mental health problems. We talked to a few caregivers about their mental wellbeing, and found a nationwide organization that aims to give them support through their journey.
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Support for the Emotional Weight of Dementia Caregiving
Daughterhood is a community of mostly women that support each other in the challenge of caring for their aging parents, friends and other family members. They also share the joys of caregiving for their loved ones. The community began in 2015. Daughterhood has an online community component that includes blogs and newsletters, podcasts, webinars, and social media platforms. The Daughterhood website, in particular, offers information about assisted living, home care, end-of-life care, managing emotions like feeling guilty or overwhelmed, Medicaid, Medicare, and more.
Daughterhood’s mission is to support and build confidence in women who are managing their parents' care. As it says on their website, when comparing it to parenthood, daughterhood is much more isolating. That’s because few women know other family caregivers like themselves.
Daughterhood acknowledges, "You have your childhood friends, and you have your motherhood friends." As family caregivers, these daughters need their daughterhood friends.
Rosanne Corcoran is the creator of Daughterhood The Podcast: For Caregivers. She is also a Daughterhood Circle Leader. Daughterhood Circles offer caregivers an opportunity to get together regularly in small groups to connect, relax and help guide each other care for their parents. Circle Leaders are very seriously committed to fostering an inclusive community for their members where caregivers can feel comfortable being vulnerable and sharing their circumstances.
Circle members and the Circle Leader decide how often and when/where they can meet as a group. The leaders must make a solid commitment to put the work in and build an authentic and welcoming community for dementia caregivers.
Studies indicate that women are more likely to be family caregivers than men. They approach caregiving differently. Women are more likely to be exposed to caregiving stressors, though they are able to handle it more. Women are known to spend more time caring for others than men.
Caregiver.org reports that 65 percent of care recipients of dementia are female, with an average age of 69.4 years. “Upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female and may spend 50% more time providing care than males. Male caregivers are less likely to provide personal care, but 24% helped a loved one get dressed compared to 28% of female caregivers. 36% of female caregivers handle the most challenging caregiving tasks compared with 24% of their male counterparts. 33% of women are working decreased hours, 29% passed up a job promotion, training, or assignment, 22% took a leave of absence, 20% switched from full-time to part-time employment, 16% quit their jobs, and 13% retired early”. The average family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and provides 20 hours per week of unpaid care.
Daughterhood encourages women to connect and grow through the long, and often, difficult process of their loved one’s dementia. The Daughterhood website features stories of female caregivers sharing their own personal stories. In these stories, it’s easy to discern the toll caregiving takes on the primary caregivers.
“I don't think you can really understand what it is until you are in it,” Corcoran said.
Tom Messina, another family caregiver to his mother with dementia, said he had a hard time with caregiving. “I gained over 100 pounds in less than a year,” he said. Dementia caregiving had a major impact on Messina’s mental and physical health as well.
Corcoran took care of her mother, Rose, in her home, until her passing in May 2021. She sought out help with the emotional impacts of caregiving by connecting with other female caregivers in group support settings, as well as seeking one-on-one counseling.
Being the primary caregiver can elevate a person’s level of stress and isolation. In Corcoran 's case, her levels of stress and isolation grew as her mother needed increasingly more help with her everyday tasks. These tasks included having Corcoran bathe and dress her mother and manage everything else in between. Her siblings were not as active in her mother’s care, and so, it continued to get more difficult over time. These struggles led Corcoran to Daughterhood where she learned about their Circles and eventually became a Circle Leader herself.
Group therapy sessions like the Daughterhood Circles reduce caregiver isolation, provide them with a sense of belonging and a network of support. Group sessions can also help dementia caregivers gain perspective on their situations, as well as learn new strategies for self-care. The disadvantages of group therapy are speaking in front of a group of people and opening a person up to feeling vulnerable. For dementia caregivers, any sort of group therapy also requires them to leave their loved one alone, and this can be expensive as they may need to hire a professional caregiver in their absence.
As she grew to see the importance of group support for primary caregivers, Corcoran also wanted to expand her outreach to others like herself. She found a way to do that when she created her podcast. Now with 27 episodes and counting, Corcoran’s podcast delivers support to primary caregivers by bringing them interviews with everyone from caregiver book authors, to memory care doctors, to eldercare attorneys, to Medicare experts.
Just as with the success of its podcast, Daughterhood has had success with its Circles program as well. Daughterhood Circles are in 26 states nationwide. The Daughterhood website states where these leaders are from, who they are, and what day and time the meeting will be.
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Support for the Struggles of Caregiving
Family caregivers of people living with dementia will tell you that the journey can have its moments of deep struggle. In this audio story, three caregivers - Rosanne Corcoran, Tom Messina and Lori Wilson - recount several of their struggles and talk about the importance of seeking support to lead them through it.
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