Knowing how to care for an aging relative is a situation we all must prepare for.

Taking Care in the Role of Care Giving

By Meta J. Mereday


While the life expectancy of African Americans continues to remain below that of the general population, the need for care giving strategies for long term support is needed now more than ever. 

African American life expectancy is approximately 70 years, compared to an average of approximately 76 years for all population groups according to the National Vital Statistics Reports.  The report further highlights a striking difference among African American men who have a life expectancy of 66 years compared to the national average of 74 years. 

According to, more than 68 percent of elderly African Americans are poor or economically vulnerable.  Also, over 25 percent of African American elderly have incomes that fall below the poverty line. 

Adding to this is the increased dependence of family members to provide caregiver help when other resources are not available.  Many cultures maintain their familial connections both physically and financially by having older relatives remain in their homes.  Due to a variety of migratory practices including children moving away for school or seeking jobs and taking up new residences and starting families, the close knit family network has become a thing of the past. The African American community, which historically kept close ties with each other due to segregation and limited opportunities, also spread their wings to seek their fortunes often in the Northern or Western states. 

Currently, it is estimated that more than 10 percent of the country’s 23 million care giving households are African American. Many of these families are in the “sandwich syndrome” that has them caring for at least one older relative who may be physically and/or economically challenged in addition to a younger member experiencing a similar situation. 

Whether they are “sandwiched” between generational patients or just overwhelmed due to travel from their home base to a distant location to assist someone in need, the role of the caregiver help, especially for African Americans, has taken on new dimensions and requires a strategic as well as holistic approach.

According to Sherea Cary, author of Next Step, NT and caregiver expert, the modern day caregiver needs to be prepared as well as supported in order to best address the needs of all involved. She has four tips that caregivers should follow:

1.  Get organized; assemble all the information you can about the patient and their condition. Have the names of the medical team and available documents.

2. Get help; build a team of family and friends to help because no one can do this alone.  If you do not have a supportive family, extend the reach to your church or any resource that can be helpful to you (i.e. care giving groups etc.).

3. Be a truth teller; tell the truth about the needs of the patient and what caregiver help is needed.  This is not the time to be in denial or to be proud. Vital time can be lost and available information can be missed.

4.  Take time for yourself, you can not continue to give if your well is empty. Depending on the situation, take an opportunity to do something for yourself so that you maintain a refreshed appearance and motivated spirit.  


Cary found these tips and other information helpful as when she became a caregiver for her father, who is a cancer survivor. Also, realizing that there was not a great deal of information available for African American caregivers, she wrote her work book for cancer patients and caregivers.

“My experience with my father led me to write Next Step, but it is useful to any critical ills,” states Cary.

She also gives workshops to provide people with a road map on caregiver help so that they can customize to meet their specific circumstances.

“Talking to men is a lot different than talking to women, but the role of a caregiver whether it is a man or a woman is equally important and African American men need to understand first how to take better care of themselves so that they live longer and then understand how to care for an ill or otherwise incapacitated loved one,” she adds.

African American males need to step up their self-care efforts to increase their life spans. Also, they need to be aware of the potential pitfalls that can occur if they are not prepared for caregiver help for themselves and others. 

Being prepared and compiling information, in addition to expanding a support base and keeping open and honest lines of communication, are crucial to effective caregiver help.

Most important, making time for yourself and involving others in keeping you motivated and rested.  Care giving is a growing concern, but it is something that can bring families and communities together to share the load.

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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