Easing the burdens of family caregivers: FSPC Women’s Conference focuses on elderly care

How can women who care for elderly family members find help and relief? On Monday, March 24, the Women’s Conference of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches addressed issues related to family caregiving for elderly persons. After the two guest speakers gave their analyses of the topic, the roughly 50 delegates, who had come from all over Switzerland, had the occasion to share their experiences and learn more about the projects of their colleagues.
©istockphoto.com/Artem Zamula

Persons caring for elderly family members often have to be available around the clock seven days a week, twelve months a year, stated Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, professor of psychology at the University of Bern, in her lecture at the Women’s Conference. In most cases, these caregivers are women, emphasized Regine Munz, private lecturer for systematic theology at the University of Basel and psychiatric pastoral care provider, in her own subsequent presentation.

According to a 2012 study by Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello and François Höpflinger, a person caring for her or his partner at home provides about 60 hours of care per week. In the case of a child caring for a parent, it is between 20 and 30 hours. These unpaid caregivers only rarely have someone who can fill in for them. As a rule, it is the married sons who can count on their wives to support them in these tasks.

Thus, family caregivers are at risk for physical and mental exhaustion or even depression. This is particularly true for members of the “sandwich generation” between 40 and 60 years who have to care for their parents and their children at the same time, Perrig-Chiello explained. And things will only get worse, she added, as Switzerland has the highest life expectancy in the world, and people want to keep living at home for as long as possible.

In the face of overstrained family caregivers, more and more Swiss families use the services of private care assistants. Often, these care assistants are women from Eastern European countries who are willing to work under conditions that are far below the Swiss average and are bordering on exploitation.

These injustices, as well as the stressful situation of family caregivers, are problems that must be addressed by the church, the conference participants agreed. For example, there could be more volunteer church members who can take over for caregiving family members for a few hours. In addition, it would make sense to support alternative projects for the elderly enabling them to live in a community without having to give up their privacy or receiving adequate care.

In the administrative part of the Women’s Conference, which took place March 24 in Bern, the delegates voted for Ms. Monika Hirt Behler to join the commission. She had been the Church Council President of Zug until the end of 2013 and currently is studying theology at the University of Zurich.

The Women’s Conference, founded June 7, 1999, consists of 45 voting members from various fields. Among the organizations represented are the Swiss Protestant Women (EFS) and the interest group of Feminist Theologians. The Women’s Conference is a place of exchange and networking for its associated organizations and representatives. It deals with sociopolitical and church-related issues and topics from a female perspective. The Conference submits these issues and requests to the FSPC and implements them in the context of church politics. The next Women’s Conference will take place October 27, 2014, in Berne.

» more information on the Women’s Conference