Caregivers often devote countless hours and resources to their caregiving role, putting their loved ones before themselves and sacrificing their own time in order to provide the best possible care. Caregiving is a full time job, one that requires patience, love, passion, dependability and heart. Considering how taxing caregivers jobs are, each one deserves recognition for their extraordinary, complex and challenging role. Thankfully November is National Family Caregiver Month, a time for family, friends and neighbors to reflect on the caregivers in their lives who provide care for the sick, elderly and disabled members of American society.
Across the U.S. more than 65 million family caregivers fulfill a vital role in the lives of their loved ones. Possessing vital knowledge regarding the medical care of their care recipient, caregivers often have the most in depth knowledge of their loved one's care. No one else possesses the specific skill-set they have acquired regarding their care recipient's illness, medicine regimen, treatment regimen, or dietary and exercise regimen.
If taken into account, the economic impact of family caregiving services is astronomical, estimated to exceed over $500 billion annually. It is also worth noting that without the skill-set of family caregivers, the U.S. would not have the capacity to care for all the individuals who receive medical help from their family members. There are not enough community-based home health services and skilled nursing facilities in the country to accommodate those individuals dependent on their caregivers.
Since caregiving often brings very little reward beyond the satisfaction of providing a vital service to the one they love, it is common for caregivers to experience caregiver related stress which can lead to anxiety, depression and health problems. Given the strong emotional ties present between caregivers and their recipients (often a parent or a spouse), the job can hold even more weight. It is important to remember the daily pressures caregivers undergo and remember that they need respite from their daily tasks in order to regain that critical time every human needs in order to operate at the best of their abilities.
NFC month enables all Americans to raise awareness regarding family caregiver issues and to educate family members about caregiving. It is also a time to celebrate the efforts caregivers put into their roles and increase support for family caregivers. This year's theme for NFC month is, BELIEVE in yourself... PROTECT your health... REACH OUT for help. As the mantra suggests, NFC Month reminds caregivers to remember their own health and needs in order to live a satisfying life, while providing the best care they can to their loved ones.
If you are caring for a loved one, you already are aware that you are part of the nation’s unpaid workforce. Often times you’ve given up on your own career to tend to the needs of another person. The new job you are doing may have come on suddenly, and certainly without any training. It’s a 24 hour, 7 days a week, 365 days a year job, however, you are driven by your heart of compassion, and desire to support the person for whom you are caring.
Have you considered, though, what you mean to your loved one?
- They count on you for their basic needs. You are more than likely the one person who knows everything that is going on with him/her. You know when they need to take a certain medication, and you know what those medications are. You know who their doctor is, and when they need to get there.
- They count on you for their physical needs. You know when they ate last, and what they ate. You understand their sleep habits, and can tell when they may be having an off day. You can tell quickly when they are feeling fatigued and tired. You are aware of their personal hygiene schedule, and are always tending those needs.
- They count on you for their emotional needs. It may not often seem like it, but your loved one does count on you and trusts you with their emotions. As you care for them on a very personal level, you see their emotions at their worst. You know what they like, and what they don’t like. You are aware of what it takes all through the day and night to keep them in better spirits.
As a caregiver you are:
You devote countless hours to your loved one, and you truly are an unsung hero. All of your work behind the scenes is important to them, and to their entire support system. Caregivers provide help with in-home health care, errands, housekeeping and transporting senior family members to and from doctor visits.
Even though November has been designated as National Family Caregivers month, taking care of the caregiver is something that needs to be front-of-mind year round. Because caregivers typically juggle so many items - work, family obligations and their aging parents - equipping the seniors’ home with a medical alert system can offer the caregiver peace of mind beyond compare.
Regardless of whether your loved one is ill or simply is an aging parent who wants to age at home, it is a daunting task. Here are some additional tips:
- Ask for help. Simply because the aging or ill care recipient is your family member doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own. Look for volunteers to come to the house and help with weekly housekeeping or grocery shopping, take turns with a friend or another family member for taking the family member to doctor’s visits.
- Build a network of support. While your siblings may not offer to help with caring for your aging parents, chances are they will offer help if you ask. If either of your senior parents suffers from any particular illness or disease, look into support groups. Talk to a local area agency on aging for support services that are provided. A support network can include equipping your loved ones home with a medical alert system, one of the best types of support systems as it gives the aging parent a way to have immediate access to medical care in the event of a medical emergency or a trip or fall. Having the medical alert system offers the caregiver the peace of mind in knowing that the systems are monitored 24/7.
- Take daily breaks. You need to take some time for yourself, even if it’s simply going to a coffee shop to relax and read a newspaper. Go out for lunch, take a walk in the park, recharge your batteries.
- Don’t neglect your own health. If you’re not feeling well you can’t be your best for anyone. See your doctor if you need help with your health. Take a day off if you’re not feeling well. Also talk with your doctor if the stress of caregiving is taking its toll.
- Look for resources. Some insurance providers or local aging agencies offer resources for individuals who are dealing with a senior loved one. Call your aging adults’ insurance provider and check on local resources.
- Acknowledge your feelings. You’re allowed to feel anger, guilt or frustration. Your feelings areyour own and need to be addressed. It’s all right to feel these feelings as caregiving can be an exhausting and sometimes seemingly thankless task. Unless someone is in that role, they will not understand what you’re going through. If that’s the case, you should connect with other caregivers so you can share your feelings.
- Keep track of your feelings because if you’re overcome with a sense of sadness that lingers you may be depressed and should talk with a doctor. Feeling angry with yourself for your lack of patience with the person for whom you’re caring or with family members that aren’t helping out are extremely natural. You should look to the cause of the anger and address it: is it stress, fear, the need for more support?
- Focus on those tasks which make sense during the day. If you simply don’t have time to mow the lawn or deep clean the bathroom, let it go or hire someone to do it for you. Look to those tasks that you don’t want to do or can’t do and reach out for help. Ask for help with shopping, running errands or cooking meals.
Please take the month of November, and all year round, to show your respect and gratitude to those caregivers whose efforts enable their care recipients to live their lives in good health, with renewed dignity.