Deborah Roberts Shares Her Family's Story

April 6, 2006 — -- Ben and Ruth Roberts have always been the rock for their nine children, including "20/20's" Deborah Roberts.

Ben and Ruth guided their children through segregation and tough financial times. In recent years, however, their health has declined, and now they have reached the point where they need help to get through their daily lives -- Ben, 83, suffers from colon cancer while Ruth, 80, has arthritis and dementia.

The bulk of the responsibility of looking after Ben and Ruth has fallen on the shoulders of Tina Clarington, Deborah's older sister, who lives closest to their parents' home in Perry, Ga. While Clarington is more than happy to help her parents, she -- like many of the estimated 44.4 million Americans serving as caregivers -- sometimes feels overwhelmed.

"Some days I just feel I am doing all of this," Clarington said. "Somebody help me now!"

It's a common dilemma for grown children of elderly parents. They have their own lives, children and jobs, but want to take care of the people who raised and cared for them.

"Well, it's just an issue that's exploding," said Terry Hargrave, a family therapist and professor of counseling at West Texas A&M University. "Right now we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 [million] to 45 million people that have a care-giving responsibility of some kind."

Care giving often falls on the shoulders of one son or daughter who takes the lead in his or her parents' health and that means that person often pushes his or her well-being to the side.

"We know for sure from the research that caregivers do have poorer health than non-care-giving people. It is a tremendous strain on them," Hargrave said. "So if you take all the strains of regular life and you double it, of course you're going to end up with some of the problems that you have with chronic stress. You have a greater susceptibility to high blood pressure, more heart problems, more chronic illness that goes on with the caregiver than it does with the non-care-giving population."

To read Hargrave's tips, click here.

The Roberts siblings realized the strain Clarington was under when she sent them an e-mail.

"I told them I know everybody had their own thing that they need to do, but so do I," Clarington said. "Our parents are at the point where somebody needs to take care of them and I'm doing it, but call me from time to time and ask me how I'm doing."

"She slapped us around," Deborah Roberts said. "And you know, she was right. … I thought I was helping out, but the fact of it is that she needs care giving too."

Deborah Roberts says she and her siblings try to help out more, and make an effort to do the little things, like place a phone call.

"I think the final thought is you can't just assume everything is going along pretty well, even if you have somebody like Tina who is in charge," Deborah Roberts said. "You cannot assume. You've got to care more. I thought I was caring, but not enough."

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