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Mother at Age 8

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and there may be no better example of this than when a parent falls ill. As of 2005, nearly one and a half million U.S. children ages 8 to 18 care for a chronically ill or disabled relative. Their duties range from keeping the sick person company to taking on household responsibilities and medical care like changing feeding tubes or adult diapers. The effects of caregiving on our nation’s youth are seen in this story of a teenager helping her mother deal with Multiple Sclerosis. This family painfully demonstrates a gaping hole in US health care.

Fortunately, researchers are beginning to stress the importance of helping caregivers of all ages cope better by providing counseling sessions, in-home skills training, support groups, and assistance juggling care responsibilities. There are websites that offer advice to caregivers (Alz.org, CancerCare.org), allow other family members and friends to stay on top of the situation (ThePatientPartnerProject.org, Carepages.com), and link to agencies and organizations with free resources for caregivers. As the Wall St. Journal reports, “lobbying efforts are under way to secure more funding from the federal government for programs to help caregivers, and some experts are calling for formal assessment programs that could be used by health-care organizations to determine what kind of support caregivers may need.”

by Michael Alison Chandler
The Washington Post
August 25, 2007

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