by Marian Sherratt
Caregiving: A Global Issue
What a wonderful welcome from many people around the world in response to my first article for Olderhood on caregiving. Thank you.
Your kind comments have led me to branch off into the international aspect of caregiving and careworking. By looking through the lens of a global economy, we can find some very challenging issues for all concerned. Among them are the cost and availability of care in developed countries like Bermuda; the working conditions of expatriate careworkers; and the toll international caregiving takes on employees and employers alike.
Here in Bermuda, the cost of assisted living and nursing facilities is out of reach for the average family. If we take the example of a parent who is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, most families will draw on their own resources, as I mentioned in my previous article, until those resources are exhausted. Bermuda does not have enough long-term facility beds or enough community-based support for these families, so what happens when families “hit the wall”?
As an example, here is a brief version of one woman’s experience. “Anna” (not her real name) was working full-time, raising a young daughter, and caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease as well as her father who was very elderly and frail. Because she lived in “the homestead” with her parents, her siblings did little to help and made remarks about her living “rent free”, so she could do the caregiving in return. During my interview, she broke down and admitted that, when she left her mother alone for a few hours, her mother had ventured into the kitchen and almost burned the house down when trying to cook a meal. This was her tipping point.
Exhausted, worried, fearing for the safety of her family and her home, Anna said that if she could afford it she would hire a live-in careworker. (In Bermuda, most of our live-in careworkers are from the Philippines.) Anna was desperate for help, she knew that having a careworker live in the home was far more cost effective than any other type of care in Bermuda, but she simply could not afford it.
This leads me to ask, what does this mean for the woman—or should I say the thousands of women—who leave their countries, children and parents to care for someone else’s parents (or children)? What personal sacrifices do they make to become careworkers in our country? Do we ever give a thought to these global families and those they leave behind?
While most employers are fair and everyone benefits from the arrangement, there are a few employers who are guilty of exploiting these women. The careworkers are on work permits and they know any complaints will result in their work permit being cancelled. They are expected to live-in with the care recipient—a situation that might start off quite well but can quickly become 24/7 care when the elderly person does not sleep through the night, needs constant care during the day, and the family does not relieve the careworker at weekends. The hours are long and lonely and the physicality of heavy lifting in and out of chairs, beds, baths and cars takes its toll on the careworker’s health.
The other side of international caregiving is the expatriate worker in Bermuda who has sick parents in their country of origin, very often cared for by their siblings or family member. One Canadian man who I interviewed had a good job here in Bermuda but he was seriously thinking about giving it up because the family was struggling to keep their frail, elderly parents at home. Not only did he feel guilty about leaving his parents behind, but he spent all his vacation in Canada relieving his brother who cared for mum and dad. This man should have been on top of his game in his peak earning years, but he was exhausted and emotionally drained—not good for him and not good for his employer.
Caregiving is a global issue. As always there are many sides to any story. By looking through a global lens I hope we can bring awareness to the impact of caregiving so that we can improve the lot of caregivers, careworkers and care recipients.
By Marian Sherratt
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