Caregiver advocate helps other caregivers avoid emotional breakdown

Caregiver Advocate Carolyn Brent advises other caregivers on how to avoid a grim fate in the wake of losing their loved one(s). Photo: Lawrence Cole

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2013 – When Carolyn Brent’s father fell ill, she was more than happy to care for the man who had loved and reared her for so many years.  When he passed in August of 2012, it did not come as much of a surprise given his condition.

Carolyn felt a sense of contribution and satisfaction in the fact that she was able to be there for him in his time of need. What she hadn’t bargained for, however, were the physical, emotional and financial costs that she would be left to bear as well as the cold shoulder she would be shown by potential employers and insurance companies in her time of need years later.

Carolyn was recently one of the 65.7 million Americans who serve as caregivers for someone who is ill, disabled or aged. Representing nearly a third of the US adult population, unpaid caregivers such as Carolyn are the largest source of long term care services in this country according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Their services are valued at nearly half a trillion dollars per year.

Being a caregiver can easily turn into a full-time job. This is especially true for those who care for seniors over 65, for whom the average caregiver invests between 30 and 35 hours per week caring for their loved one according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.  For Carolyn and nearly 33 million other caregivers (50%), this burden must be shouldered while working a full time job outside of the home.

“I spent over 17 years working as a pharmaceutical sales account executive” says Carolyn. “Then one day, I broke my right foot in three places while on the job. My doctor instructed me to take 3 months off of work. Though I was aware of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), I knew that I would still be responsible for the sales results in my territory—even while on leave. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on performance commissions and possibly even losing my job—especially with my father depending on me.”


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“Within one hour of having a cast placed on my right foot and leg, I was back in my car calling on doctors,” Carolyn continued. “That was the year 2008. Since I did not get the proper rest needed to heal, I developed complications from that injury over the years, including chronic low back pain. Though my doctor had cleared me to work, he also recommended that I make changes in my work activities to avoid more degeneration in my back. He wanted me off of the road and medically discharged me from the position that I had at the time.”

Carolyn’s story of tough decisions, self-sacrifice and guilt contains themes that are all too common among long term caregivers. A 2009 AARP study revealed that 60% of caregivers are reluctant to take off of work in fear of forfeiting funds needed to assist their loved one.

Fifty percent of them cited increased stress at the mere thought of needing to take off of work due to their care giving responsibilities.

“As a caregiver, it is common to put yourself on the back burner back burner so that you can totally be dedicated to the person who you are trying to save,” says Carolyn. You feel that the next doctor, the next prescription, or the next bit of research is going to spark a miraculous turnaround and bring them back to normal. This almost never happens and can be frustrating and debilitating from an emotional standpoint.”

As a result of disobeying her doctor’s orders and continuing to work in sales rather than taking a less strenuous job that would have allowed her broken foot to completely heal, Carolyn was forced to quit her six-figure job in pharmaceuticals. What happened next, however, left her literally shocked and dismayed.

“Later, when I tried to apply for similar jobs that I knew I could perform well in, I was denied opportunities time and time again despite nearly two decades of documented achievement at work,” she said.

“Companies did not want a 56 year old with 17 years of industry experience who had become accustomed to a six figure salary. They wanted someone with 0-5 years of experience who was half my age and who they could get away with paying only half as much for the seam level of responsibility. Right now, I’m living off of my life’s savings. I’ve been without income or insurance since the fall of 2012 when my former employer refused to continue paying.”

While Carolyn had saved a sum of money to at least temporarily sustain her, most caregivers are not so fortunate. Many of them run through their savings or 401k’s or go bankrupt altogether.

Providing long term care often leaves caregivers with a host of physical and emotional challenges. One in ten caregivers specifically cites giving care as having had a degenerative effect on their health. Twenty-one percent of those caring for people who are over the age of 65 report a higher degree of physical strain similar to what Carolyn experienced; and that’s just the beginning.

Up to 70% of family caregivers develop clinically significant symptoms of depression with about half of those meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Over 68% of them medicate themselves with prescription drugs, alcohol and binge eating to numb feelings of loneliness, uselessness  and mourning after they have stopped providing care to their loved one.

“So often as caregivers, we get so wrapped up in what we feel is our duty to save someone else, that we are left with little or nothing by the time our care giving has come to an end. Due to my own guilt, I did not allow my body to heal after an injury. I ran through most of my savings during the time when I was medically discharged,” says Carolyn. “I am also engaged in a bitter battle with my insurance company. They have done everything they can to avoid paying my benefits.”

“My message is simple”, she says. “I want to ensure that caregivers take care of themselves emotionally, financially and legally. I want to help them avoid what I and so many others have been through. Today, I write books and give talks all over the country helping caretakers to make sure they are taking care of themselves just as well as take care of their loved 0ne.”

Carolyn suggests these 5 must-do’s for every caretaker:

  1. If you are injured, take care of yourself - call someone to help you; also, take off from work.
  2. DON’T be afraid. Get an attorney right away. You are likely to end up fighting insurance companies and agencies both on behalf of your loved one and on that of yourself.
  3. Do not feel guilty for taking care of yourself sometimes. Caregivers beat themselves up when they get sick or injured because they are constantly trying to save the life of someone else.
  4. When your loved ones goes home to heaven, don’t feel guilty because you feel at peace. Embrace that they are at peace.
  5. Stay fit; you must first take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.

To contact Carolyn, learn more about this issue or support her cause, visit www.CareGiverStory.com. CareGiverStory.com is a 100% resource that provides information and support for caregivers worldwide. You may also donate to Carolyn’s non-profit by clicking the appropriate button.


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