5 Important Reasons “National Family Caregivers Month” Matters Even More in 2020
“National Family Caregivers Month” (November) has been recognized in the United States since 2000. Coinciding with the emergence of an aging baby boomer population, most Americans have at least some awareness of the sacrifices many make to care for family members, neighbors, and friends in need. But despite the progress, their work is still underappreciated in 2020. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, family caregivers are under more stress than ever before!
Here are 5 important reasons to acknowledge the family caregiver in your life.
- Family Caregivers are Underappreciated – The most recent data suggests America is home to over 60 million unpaid caregivers, and the number has been trending upward over the years. Furthermore, estimates show the work they do translates into billions of dollars of free care. To put it simply, these selfless folks are subsidizing everyone by assuming a burden that would otherwise be passed on to the larger society.
And it’s also important to remember unpaid family caregivers aren’t just middle-aged people looking after elderly parents. A substantial percentage are mothers and fathers caring for adult children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. The benefits of their sacrifices extend far beyond family and help all Americans by ensuring our most vulnerable neighbors receive the help they need.
Sadly, the dedication of family caregivers comes at a high personal cost. Most are sacrificing in one way or another. Surveys show caregivers’ social lives and relationships with others can be particularly affected. They are also at higher risk for their own health problems and may face career challenges.
- Family Caregivers Support our Healthcare System – A basic rule of economics says, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And when it comes to family caregivers, the reverse is also true. Their work helps subsidize the larger healthcare system. This is especially relevant today since physicians and medical providers now focus heavily on “population health management,” which takes a holistic approach to healthcare.
With an increased focus on “patient outcomes” and prevention versus treatment, family caregivers play an integral role by helping to ensure patient compliance with doctors’ directives. More specifically, they promote medication and dietary adherence. While these may seem like simple tasks, home-based assistance is critical to successful health outcomes and cannot be performed by faraway doctors or nurses.
- Family Caregivers are Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic – It seems all conversations these days somehow connect back to COVID-19. But truthfully, family caregivers have been placed under increased stress due to the pandemic. A job that was already challenging has become even more complex.
Family caregivers must now stay diligent in their use of PPE and adhering to social distancing guidelines while still providing a much needed and intimate service. They also fret over exposing vulnerable loved ones to a potentially-deadly virus And since many seniors are reluctant to leave their homes, many family caregivers must coordinate home-based healthcare services in order to ensure their loved ones still receive proper medical attention.
Finally, “Sandwich Generation” family caregivers must do all of this while still caring for children engaged in distance-learning due to school closures. A middle-aged mother may very well be caring for her elderly father while also ensuring her teenage daughter signs into her video classes. These are truly unprecedented times that make an already challenging job even harder!
- Family Caregivers Often Feel Isolated – All family caregivers can suffer isolation from their more socially active peers. But as previously noted, these folks aren’t always adults caring for aging moms and dads. Some are parents looking after adult children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities, and they can feel particularly alone. Many people have trouble understanding the unique burdens faced by family caregivers assuming such non-traditional roles.
In addition, elderly people caring for husbands or wives with dementia are likely to feel isolated. In some ways, they’ve lost a life partner even if their spouse is still physically alive. Sadly, the days of double dates with friends and dinner at restaurants are distant memories for many of these family caregivers.
- Awareness Helps Family Caregivers Identify Resources – Recognizing the role of family caregivers isn’t about focusing on the negative but is rather a solution-oriented exercise. Despite the challenges, the good news is resources are available to improve their quality of life. And awareness helps direct family caregivers toward helpful tools and information.
First, 21st-century technology has completely changed the landscape. Family caregivers can teach mobility-limited or weak loved ones how to use voice command tools, such as Amazon’s Alexa, for improved self-sufficiency. They can also secure a personal emergency response solution (PERS), such as LifeFone, which automatically alerts paramedics to falls or medical episodes. LifeFone emergency response services are very affordable and customizable to address a variety of lifestyles. For example, LifeFone’s “on-the-go” feature provides an additional safety net for loved ones who venture outside of the home.
Community resources can also aid family caregivers. “Meals on Wheels” and similar programs both promote a healthy diet and also ease cooking burdens. And many communities have low-cost transportation services available to assist family caregivers who might be struggling with chauffer duties. Finally, online caregiver groups and educational resources can provide a sense of community in which family caregivers can converse with others in similar situations!
At the end of the day, family caregivers have long played important roles for loved ones, communities, and the entire nation. So, it’s no wonder the United States dedicated November, “National Family Caregivers Month.” But as with many things these days, COVID-19 has made these heroes’ jobs even more difficult. All Americans should identify the family caregivers in their social circles in order to offer gratitude and extra support during these trying times!
If you’re a family caregiver or concerned friend seeking emergency response solutions for a vulnerable person, be sure to contact LifeFone today to explore a variety of affordable and customizable options!