The caregivers had many different stories about how they became a caregiver. Some people started caregiving for a friend or a loved one after a sudden event like an accident or a severe illness. Many people took on a role as a caregiver more gradually, as their care recipient was diagnosed with an illness that progressed more slowly. Still some people only met their care recipient after they were affected by their illness; these people knew they were accepting the responsibilities of a caregiver when they became friends or partners.
Some people remembered a specific moment when their caregiving had started. For example, Donovan felt that the caregiving started when his wife, diagnosed with MS, started using a wheelchair.
Marlyn’s first major caregiving effort was when they moved to an adapted home and she had to pack everything alone. Many other caregivers felt that their role gradually increased over time; there was not really a single point in time where they could say they had become a caregiver.
Several caregivers said that they never chose to be a caregiver, but “became” a caregiver because of the situation they were in. David, for example, said, “Well, this whole thing started not with me as being a caregiver because you become a caregiver; a caregiver is somebody who helps out, but it’s not ever really a job that you apply for.’
Others felt it was something that came from within. You can read more about this in the topic page Uncovering why and how caregivers care
Different family's contexts
The people we interviewed came from a diverse set of family backgrounds with different living arrangements, and family sizes. Caregivers were at different stages of their lives and had different sorts of relationships to their care recipient. Some were caring for a parent; others cared for a spouse, a child, or a friend. A few people were young adults or had young children when they became caregivers.
Shoshana saw a similar reaction with her husband, as soon as he was told he had MS. After his diagnosis, they started their family and had two children.
Most caregivers either had no children or their children had already grown up when they started caring.
Marc, who started as a paid caregiver for the son of an elderly couple, said, “ It happens fast. As the years go by, it becomes friendship, a strong friendship. And he is someone that inspires me a lot; I would have difficulties to go on without this person.” Marc now lives together with his wife and the friend he cares for in an apartment. Rhyannan started caring for the son of a deceased friend because she knew that there was no family around to care for him.
Caring at a young age
Some caregivers were younger than 18 years old when they became caregivers. We interviewed 5 people who were or had been “youth caregivers". Snoopey is a young caregiver and has cared for her mother for many years. In addition to this big responsibility, she has her own personal challenges: “As far as I know, I’m on the borderline of being mentally retarded. I was tested a few years ago and they said that upstairs is a 12-year-old—I have a mind of a 12-year-old—and that I can never live by myself.”
Caring at a distance
Some caregivers helped to look after someone who lived far away. It became a challenge to know exactly what was happening and caregivers often felt more comfortable about the situation when they visited, sometimes staying for longer periods of time.
Publication date: October 2013