Joyce is a happy woman with two teenage daughters. When she arrived home the other day, everything seemed to be in place for this single mother and her loving daughters. With two jobs and a fulfilling life, Joyce was living her version of an "American dream."
That dream, however, was deferred after her daughters responded to a loud thump that seemed to come from the bathroom.
Rushing towards the sound, the girls discovered their mother slumped against the wall. She was unresponsive and did not answer to her daughters' frantic voices. Afraid and not knowing what to do, they called a friend of the family for assistance, then 911. Unbeknownst to them, their mother had suffered a heart attack.
Joyce survived the heart attack. But the world that her daughters had known is now upside down. Everything has changed. They never dreamed that they would become their mother's caregivers. It is now a way of life for both girls. They have no other choice but to take care of their mother's needs: bathing, eating and making sure she gets her meds.
These young teenage girls are part of an emerging generation of young caregivers. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), there were 1.4 million caregivers in 2005 between the ages of 8 and 18. Of that number, 72 percent were caring for a parent or grandparent; and 64 percent lived in the same household as their care recipient. African Americans represented 13 percent.
In 2009, the NAC noted that more than 65 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spent an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. Caregiving for older adults is now estimated to be $375 billion a year.
After Joyce's heart attack, she was given a special diet. There are certain foods that she should eat and certain foods that she's been warned to stay away from. A heart attack can be caused by a number of factors, the doctors explained to Joyce's daughters. But you can be assured that food has something to do with it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a propensity for certain foods to cause havoc in the body. Naturally occurring toxins, unconventional agents, persistent organic pollutants and metals are ingested on a daily basis. Food also is loaded with saturated fats, butter, cream, processed meats and sugars, which negatively affect the body at some point in time.
When children are thrust into this unsuspected role of caregiving, they tend to pay a hefty price. In a study published recently in the Journal of Behavioral Health & Research, 1,200 students were analyzed in two Florida school districts. Researchers discovered that young caregivers were at a significantly higher risk for anxiety and depression.
It has also been reported that young caregivers are more prone to fall asleep in their classes and fall behind in their homework assignments. These children will often become socially isolated because they don't have time to be a child, entertain their friends, or have friends over due to their present home dilemma or feelings of embarrassment.
The dreams of young caregivers are stolen from them, just as a person whose home has been broken into. In this case, it would be difficult to find a young caregiver with a warm cheerful smile and free spirit without them also showing signs of being depressed. Not being able to be a cheerleader, homecoming queen and not having the time and energy to create things for a home economics class can be quite devastating to young people who are forced to care for a disabled loved one.
Unlike adults, children are not paid caregivers, and, in most cases, will be forced to become a teenage adult overnight. This unwanted challenge can and will cause stress and depression with young teen adults. For Joyce's young daughters, and thousands like them, their lives will never be the same.