With the rapidly aging populations of many countries, the elderly care industry is a fast-growing one. However, many societies are facing difficulties in fulfilling this growing demand. In China, there is one caregiver for every 3 elderly persons in need of care. There is a severe shortage of caregivers in Japan – the country with the world’s oldest population – and the responsibility often falls on a spouse or a child. By 2020, an estimated 117 million Americans will be in need of assistance, yet the number of unpaid caregivers is expected to reach only 45 million.
Unlike many jobs in the corporate world, caregiving isn’t glamorized. The industry isn’t targeted towards young people in a way that jobs in the finance and STEM sectors are. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, the average age of caregivers in the US is 49.2 years old and 34% of caregivers are 65+ years old. While it is rare to see the youth join the profession, it is much needed as they can bring fresh energy and new perspectives to the industry.
To understand caregiving through the eyes of a young woman (see our post on dementia through the eyes of a child here), we spoke with Jasmine Wiberg a 21-year-old full-time undergraduate at the University of Gävle. She worked as a home care provider during her summer vacations in the Kramfors municipality of Sweden. In our conversation with Jasmine, we asked about her work as a caregiver, the challenges of the job and her motivation to keep going.
It is not often that we see people choosing caregiving as a summer job. What inspired you to be a care provider and how did you keep yourself going?
I started working with elderly care when I turned 18. What motivated me to become a caregiver was that I had always wanted to help others in some way. I also knew that I would feel appreciated for my work in this environment.
What kept me going is that I was always greeted with a smile from the elderly. It was rewarding to know that I was playing a part in making their day brighter. The people we visit are so much more than just “care receivers”. We invest both hard work and our own feelings in the relationships we form with them. Those are some of the amazing things that I experienced through my profession, and that is what inspired me to keep working hard.
Was there ever a time when caregiving became overly stressful? How did you get through that?
Sometimes, the distance between meeting the needs of the recipient, decision-making, and taking action can be frustrating. By this I mean, that as caregivers who are on the scene every day, we can see things that do not work but aren’t always able to fix them. For example, a patient may suddenly get worse and no longer be able to do everyday things like getting out of bed. Even though we can identify such situations, we must inform the occupational therapists who will then evaluate the situation and order the type of equipment needed to manage the situation. The process is time-consuming and it is frustrating to not be able to take immediate action.
In times like this, what keeps me going is the constant confirmation from the elderly that I’m needed and appreciated. I told myself that it is “worth it” because my work is important in keeping them happy and satisfied. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I am doing a good job by following the protocol to ensure quality care.
What are some typical caregiving duties?
My working hours varied a lot. The tasks depended on which care receivers I was assigned to. Every meeting with our care receivers has person-centered plans to be followed. The activities are varied and depend on the individual needs of the recipient. While the job scope is not fixed, it often entails responsibilities such as giving medicine, stoma replacement, laundry, dishes, wound dressing, food distribution, meal support and running pharmacy errands amongst many other things.
Unlike many other jobs, healthcare professionals are needed 24 hours a day and my working hours were not standardized. While I often worked in shifts – morning (7-14), day (7-16) or evening (16-21:45) I also did a lot of “split shifts” (7-12 then 16-21:45). I also worked on the weekends.
What tips would you give to other young people considering caregiving as a job? What are some of the difficulties they may face initially and how can they overcome them?
I realize that many people have negative preconceptions of the profession, and it generally has low status. I encourage more people to try and gain a better perspective of what the job actually entails. If you love people, want to help out and get instant and consistent affirmation, then I really recommend this type of work.
Of course, this job comes with an immense amount of responsibility. We often work with sick and disabled people and you have to understand that this job is very demanding. I often get emotionally engaged with the people I meet and am encountered with a lot of sadness. These are only some of the challenges that you have to be prepared for.
Ultimately, however, it was a great experience and I learned to appreciate the little things in a different way. While this job is demanding, it is also rewarding in ways that are unique to the profession.
What is your greatest takeaway from having worked as a care provider?
My time as a care provider allowed me to gain a better understanding of elderly care in Sweden. I learned that in the Swedish care system, we focus on establishing a good relationship between the caregivers and care receivers. This is an essential part of the care receivers’ well-being because if the needs for social interaction are satisfied, both the caregivers and the elderly will be less stressed and much happier. Thus, my greatest takeaway is that in care, the recipients’ happiness should be ensured. Often times it can be done through simple acts such as watching television together or playing a board game.
You are currently a real-estate student, graduating this spring. Do you see yourself returning to caregiving in the future?
My passion is to work with people and help them in different situations in life. Finding a new home can be one of the most exciting but also sensitive stages of life, and getting to be a part of that process is extremely valuable to me.
Although the two professions differ in many ways, I believe that what drives and motivates me is the same – to help people. I have gained extremely valuable experiences during my time in care and I can definitely see myself going back to it in the future.
We hope that stories like Jasmine’s inspire more young people to join the eldercare industry either as caregivers or nurses. We thank all those involved in caregiving for their perseverance and dedication.
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.”
– Tia Walker, from The Inspired Caregiver