November is National Family Caregivers Month. What does this mean to you?
Are you one of the over 65.7 Million Americans, that makes up 29% of the US adult population, who is an unpaid caregiver? Perhaps you know of a family member or friend that is a caregiver…
What I especially love about National Family Caregivers Month, it’s an expansive dedication to caregivers, just as it should be. This is a perfect time to acknowledge and show extra-special appreciation to caregivers. They take care of the well-being and health of the elderly, the sick, and the disabled; for family members and friends alike.
In my opinion, anyone who is a caregiver is an everyday hero, literally, every single day. Being a caregiver is truly a selfless act. A caregiver sacrifices much time and energy, endures much grief and heartache, and is not adequately compensated and acknowledged for everything he or she does.
When I think of National Family Caregivers Month in November, the first person that immediately comes to mind is my mother, Linda. She is part of the aging “sandwich generation” and is very sick herself.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, with funding provided by the Administration on Aging, “Many caregivers of older people are themselves growing older. Of those caring for someone aged 65+, the average age is 63 years with one third of these caregivers in fair to poor health.” This statistic now describes my sick caregiver mom.
She is at the beginning of the end stage of her rare blood cancer called Polycythemia Vera (PV). For 35 years she lives with PV, and through the decades, experiences many complications associated with the disease. My mom also has many additional ailments that pale by comparison to PV.
Then, six months ago, my grandmother had a heart attack. My mother is a physical therapist and specializes in geriatrics. My grandmother could no longer live by herself, so my mother and stepfather living in Texas decided to take her in. My sick grandmother who, until recently lived her entire life in Connecticut, is now operating on 30% heart function. Plus, she was recently diagnosed with Dementia. She also has a long history of cardiac problems, including open heart surgery, and for over 30 years, lives with Type 2 Diabetes.
In addition to taking care of my grandmother, my mom and step-dad also take care of my adopted niece and nephew. Add in the cat and dog… Now, that’s a lot of care giving! As for my stepfather, Scott, he helps out as much as he can when he is not working a full-time job as a general contractor.
It seems to me that my family’s situation is fast becoming the norm for many American families. Caregiver statistics are forecasted to only increase as the American population continues to age. I think that family and friends, regardless if they are in town or out-of-state, often have a very limited glimpse of what a caregiver does and provides on a daily basis to a loved one, or even loved ones, in need. I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to be sick myself and to give care 24/7 to another sick family member.
For National Caregivers Month, one can go all out and provide a caregiver with a much needed day trip to a spa or a gift certificate to a five-star restaurant. However, at least with my mom, it’s all about the little things… The simple offer to help out means the world to her. Little tokens of appreciation, which cost nothing but a little time, can go such a long way!
Here are 5 very simple ideas that can be done in observance, or year-round for that matter, to offer a caregiver relief:
1. Provide a day off or night out. Care for the patient to relieve the caregiver.
2. Check in with the caregiver. Stop by or make a phone call. Give an ear and just listen. Let the caregiver vent, blow-off steam to calm down; whatever it takes.
3. Help with running errands for the day. Lighten the load for the caregiver. Or, take out the patient for a day of running his or her errands like doctors’ appointments, shopping, etc.
4. Research caregiver and / or patient resources. Offer to do the research online or by making phone calls.
5. Give positive and constructive advice. When asked, help put the rough day or incident into perspective for the caregiver. What’s more, tell the person with a heart of gold what a fantastic job he or she is doing!
In honor of the caregivers in our country… let’s do something really helpful, nice, and thoughtful for all of them. The act or gesture does not have to be grand in order to have a large and positive impact.
For additional resources, “The New York Times” has one of the best lists of caregiver links condensed on one page.