Caregiving as a Core Community Investment

In his 2001 book, Longevity Revolution, among the numerous futuristic insights Theodore Roszak shared was in regards to the subject of caregiving. As he framed it under the healthcare spectrum, he talked about economists, believing that by the mid-21st century the USA could be spending 30 percent of GDP on health care and then, to quote, “There may be more caregivers in our economy… than aerospace engineers”.

Well, if you don’t yet see it as a revolution, here we are, not even a quarter of the way into the 21st century, and caregiving is emphatically speaking, fast becoming more than an economic and health care GDP issue. With our minds looking forward, it is most certainly a dominant social issue of our times. It has more than one dimension, with lots of fluid dynamics and inter-generational and multi-resource intersections; and as I said in a previous 2016 post, with this in mind – caregiving needs to be valued as a core community investment.

As it happens, only late last week I learned of an opportunity to participate in a virtual conference – the Caregiving Global Summit, produced by a US based organization Age Without Borders. It’s running now, daily until January 26th, 2018 but if you miss it you can purchase a pass for lifetime access to the full program. Excellent value for individuals who want to learn about the intricate and demanding role of caregiving and for those who are in the business or professionally paid practice of caregiving who want to keep up with global models and trends.

Caregiving perspectives from Kalache, Van Dillen and Mehta

Day-1, Saturday. Seeing him in 2013, at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research it was once again wonderful to hear from Dr. Alexandre Kalache, currently President of the International Longevity Center in Brazil. Among other points in his presentation, Kalache reinforced this notion that as a society, in order to grow and sustain a culture of care we have to look at caregiving from a life course perspective – and thus it becomes an inter-generational matter and the socialization aspect is a huge part of the health care equation.

In the next presentation, it was a second win for this conference to have Frank Van Dillen, co-founder of Demential Village Architects & Designers, Hogeweyk, Dementia Village Netherlands. I first learned of this story through Jill O”Donnell, a friend and colleague of mine. Jill, an early leader in the elder care field in Toronto, visited Hogeweyk in 2014.

Van Dillen is a visionary with practical insights and a prime example of what you get innovatively, when you fuse thinking across professional disciplines and see how to solve problems (as I’ve learned to say) by seeing things differently with alien eyes. Not a surprise to know that his inspiration for Hogeweyk came somewhat from personal family experience, but deeper than that it can be said that he is a humanist architect. As he said, “(as architects) we don’t deliver a design but a new approach to living”.

Upon reflection, the Van Dillen presentation was the more thought provoking of the day as it spoke to me, not only to the design of dementia friendly communities, but also to community design at large, taking into account community access and the integration of health care services and caregiving needs at home. Van Dillen spoke of bottom up urbanism, which simply put, is where innovation will come from in a longevity society, where citizens will drive the kind of change they want in age friendly design. We need to as he says “humanize versus institutionalize” the health care and caregiving experience.

Finally, full kudos to the Caregiving Global Summit organizers for arranging the third solid presentation of the day, Rajiv Mehta, CEO of Atlas of Caregiving. His session, “Re-seeing family caregiving as a continuing, universal and community activity” sums it up perfectly when I say it is a core community investment. Mehta is another example of someone from a non-health care, medical world who “re-sees” with alien eyes. He comes from a technology innovation background with companies such as Apple and Adobe combined with research work at NASA.

In a nutshell Mehta’s goal was to develop a useful tech based tool to help people map and navigate the “web of caregiving interactions and interconnections”, while at the same time gathering and using collective data to improve the social conversation, or as the Atlas web site states, help you “better understand your care ecosystem”.

Here’s another keeper phrase; like Frank Van Dillen as the humanist architect, Rajiv Mehta spoke of the technological anthropologist, someone who studies of the relationship between humans and digital technology. While he is certainly that, Mehta also commented on caregiving as a fundamental human activity that happens through the life course. On that note, we come full circle back to Alexandre Kalache, “a culture of care… coherent with urban living.”

Caregiving, a career, a life skill – but nothing informal about it

Time will tell if I can manage to join in on the many of the other sessions on this virtual conference, but it has been worth it alone just to hear these three speakers from divergent backgrounds and perspectives, tie in a theme to underscore the significance of this 21st century longevity experience – caregiving.

“The more compassionately gifted people we have employed full time as caregivers, the more socially influential their qualities will become.” Theodore Roszak, Longevity Revolution

Until now, no one has really promoted this in school as a future career option or even taught it as a basic personal life skill to prepare us for the potential of having caregiving roles throughout an extended life course. Opportunity? Roszak was right – except the longevity century just shrunk in time. In the meantime while we watch for these careers to emerge with more value, as Dr. Maureen Dobbins said in her 2016 McMaster University Optimal Aging blog post:

“The importance and value of informal/family caregivers cannot be overstated – not only in terms of their service to their loved ones, but in taking pressure off overloaded health care systems.”

My only rider question to that is – why do we continue to use that phrase informal caregiving – often used as a substitute for the word unpaid or volunteer? Because with caregiving, when you are called to it and in the thick of it, as a phrase – informal – doesn’t cut it. In caregiving, as a family or friend, we also act as advocates, and brokers or coordinators of hired care services, which is all part of our managing that care ecosystem. We need to find a better vocabulary for defining the value of caregiving as a core community investment.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *