In the 12 years since Gary Barg started Today's Caregiver, a magazine for the nation's 50 million caregivers, he's seen major shifts in the public's perception of the issue.
"When we first began developing the magazine and the Web site, no one was talking about caregiving," says Barg, the magazine's editor in chief. "Taking care of an elderly relative or an ailing spouse was just what folks did without much recognition of what the job entailed."
Barg learned that firsthand in 1994, when he returned home for a monthlong visit with his mother, who was caring for his aging grandparents and seriously ill father. On the first day, he watched in amazement as his mother handled problems with insurance, issues with prescriptions and mix-ups with doctor visits, along with providing care for three people.
"I thought it was just a particularly busy time," says Barg. "It wasn't. That was what her life was every day."
Barg relocated to south Florida to help care for his dad and grandparents. A year later, he started Today's Caregiver magazine. The publication and accompanying Web site, caregiver.com, are filled with information and resources. Since then, his father and grandparents have died. His mother, 73, writes "Phoenix Rising," an occasional column on life after caregiving.
Awareness of the needs of caregivers has grown in the past decade, says Barg, as have organizations, products, support groups and publications designed to help caregivers take care of themselves -- while helping others.
"The bad news is that most caregivers still tend to isolate themselves and are reluctant to reach out and ask for help when they need it," says Barg.
In 1998, Barg organized the first Fearless Caregiver conference. The events -- 10 a year across the country -- offer a day of seminars, motivational speakers and networking.
"It's so important to recognize that when you become a caregiver, you've taken on a new job and a new role and to acknowledge that," says Barg. "Whether you are living with the care recipient or handling things long distance, stopping in several times a week or there 24/7, you've become a vital member of the care team right alongside the health care providers. You're the CEO of Caring for Mama Inc. And what that means is that you have to get the best support available for your organization and for yourself."
Korky Vann writes for the Hartford Courant.