In the late 1970s, my aunt was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was married, raising her three children and working full-time when she was diagnosed.
After my aunt’s husband died, it was clear that she would no longer be able to work nor raise her children alone. So my grandmother, a retired nurse, moved in with my aunt and became her caregiver and the guardian of my aunt’s three children.
I don’t know how my grandmother coped with my aunt’s mental illness alone, but she did. She managed the household, the finances, the children’s school schedules, my aunt’s endless doctors’ appointments, and occasionally, long stays in the hospital when my aunt stopped taking her medication.
When my grandmother became my aunt’s caregiver, those many years ago, there was no such thing as National Family Caregivers’ Month. The very idea of acknowledging the sacrifices that caregivers like my grandmother make did not take shape until many years later.
It was in 1997 when the Caregiver Action Network (formerly, the National Family Caregivers’ Association) advocated and facilitated the signing of the first national proclamation, which named November National Family Caregivers’ Month.
Now, more than 20 years after President Clinton signed the first proclamation, it seems fitting to revisit the importance of celebrating the sacrifices that caregivers make each day.
The following are 5 reasons why we honor family caregivers during National Family Caregivers’ Month.
Best stated by Rosalynn Carter, 39th First Lady of the United States, “there are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
It is not always an easy role to take on, caring for someone you love, but you will likely be touched by caregiving at some point in your life. Your sacrifices, or those made by others who support their loved ones, should be recognized.
Family caregivers are the linchpin of our healthcare system. The majority of hands-on care is provided by family members who are often caring for a loved one with complex medical conditions. Yet, most caregivers receive little information that would help them efficiently manage the care of a loved one.
National Family Caregivers’ Month provides the opportunity to highlight the national advocacy work being done right now in your community to ensure that you, the caregiver, receive the information pertaining to the medical conditions of your loved ones in an understandable manner.
Exhaustion and burnout is common among family caregivers and has been linked to early placement of loved ones into long-term care facilities and increased mortality among the caregivers themselves.
Therefore, decreasing stress is very important. In fact, it is among the most researched indicators of health and wellness among family caregivers.
The collective goal of the national and international research initiatives is to identify ways to reduce the distress caregivers experience. If less stress can be achieved, caregivers can increase their energy capacity and as a result, decrease the chances of burnout.
Many caregivers are trying to keep a job in addition to caregiving. Individuals who are working and providing care for a loved one are at an increased risk for role fatigue, which usually occurs gradually as stress builds up.
As a result of the competing roles, many caregivers end up having to quit their job. The loss of their professional role can be difficult and may lead to a loss of financial security and work benefits.
There is a great chance that the number of caregivers will increase and with it, the potentially strained workforce. Therefore, implementing caregiver-friendly work environments should be a national priority.
Providing care and assistance for a loved one in need can be physically demanding. Some caregivers report experiencing painful injuries and musculoskeletal disorders due to overexertion caused by providing care.
Other conditions among caregivers are heart disease, arthritis and diabetes at approximately twice the rate of non-caregivers. Researchers have contended that chronic stress may lead to a poor diet and increased use of substances, which may affect the physical health of caregivers over time.
Advocates are working to empower caregivers to care for themselves just as they care for their loved one. Here are some resources that you may find particularly useful as you work to care for yourself while you care for your loved one.
Asking for help is a testimony to your inner strength. As stated by the Caregiver Support Services, There is Honor in Asking for Help®. It is important to realize that by becoming a caregiver you have indeed humbled yourself to provide support and care for your sick or disabled loved one.
You did not hesitate to act when your loved one was in need, so why should things change now that your focus for care is yourself?
Asking for and accepting help is honorable, so reach out to get the help you need. You might consider reaching out to an organization like Caregiver Support Services to assist with your caregiving situation.
The Emma tool will help you evaluate your state of well-being. Once submitted, you will be provided with immediate feedback as to how you might work to achieve optimum wellness.
Caregiving is an act of love and selflessness. Yet, we know that you cannot go at it alone without risking your personal well-being.
Even though National Family Caregivers’ Month is only celebrated once a year, thousands of caregiver advocates are working every day to ensure that caregivers, like you and my grandmother, have the support needed so that you do not risk your health.
My grandmother passed away in 2002, and my aunt some time later in 2013. However, the care my grandmother provided for my aunt kept her family together. If my grandmother were alive today, I would thank her for all that she did as a mother, grandmother and a family caregiver.
Please download and share the “I am your Caregiver” e-card in honor of National Family Caregivers’ Month.
Who would you honor during National Family Caregivers’ Month? If you are a caregiver, how would you like to be recognized during caregivers’ month? Please share your thoughts below.