First responders, the unselfish among us
Our annual remembrance of the tragedy at the World Trade Center gives us the moment to reflect on the power of First Responders. These stories of selfless acts of bravery who ran into collapsing buildings with little or no pause to consider their own needs is amazing. What differentiates those of us who reacted to the crisis of others even if it caused some personal pain, inconvenience or turmoil?
Gerontologist, mental health and behavioral scientist identify a sense of obligation and attachment as the best indicators of caregivers as first responders. Many families face their own moments of crisis all too often. Consider:
- Alzheimer’s Disease lasts, average four to eight year, but can be as long as twenty years but the disease progression is erratic.
- Traumatic Brain Injury leaves its victim with a lifetime of various sensory and cognitive deficits requiring supervision to adjust to daily life.
- Children with Spectrum Disorders fluctuate in abilities depending a complicated array of environmental factors that can change in a split second.
- Senior adults with multiple chronic conditions are more vulnerable to viruses turning a benign cold into pneumonia or shingles.
Obligation and attachment. Family members and caregivers engage as selfless First Responders all the time. Consider this fact of life, today (2015) we have three caregivers per person needing care. By 2030, there will be 1.7 caregivers for everyone needing care. Compounding this urgent need for caregivers is the reality that 50% of today’s Baby Boomers are single, many of them have no children.
Where does that leave us in the decades to come? With less people to care for each of us and with a rapidly aging population with more health conditions, our needs will greatly outweigh our resources. Our government, communities and families cannot wait any longer to create new approaches to caregiving. Here are a few suggestions:
- Create multigenerational housing where senior adults can help young families with child care.
- Encourage intergenerational activities to reduce senior adults social isolation and expose children older adult’s wealth of knowledge and experience.
- Develop care settings to desegregate chronically and severely impaired adults from the ‘regular’ population.
Kiss your grandparent, great grandparent and thank the family member who unselfishly provider their care. They are our treasured first responders.