Family caregivers are very important to the lives of many of our senior loved ones or likely will be at some time.
Family caregivers provide a service that’s hard to match when they aren’t there to do it all!
Unfortunately, there may come a time when they just don’t feel that they can continue giving it their all. What will we do then?
We all need to lift some of the ‘caregiving obligation’ (certainly not burden as they don’t feel it is a burden but more a responsibility born of love) from their shoulders.
We need to help them seize the day and do something for themselves once in a while.
Who Are Family Caregivers?
Let’s try to show just how important family caregivers are to our senior loved ones and society as a whole by learning a little bit about them.
First, let’s all be clear about just who is a family caregiver. The designation fits anyone who provides care to an individual, whether that is spouse, parent, family relative, child, friend, or another loved one to assist them with their activities of daily living.
They help them eat, bathe, do chores, cook a meal, shop, go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, pay their bills, visit the doctor, take medications, change a bandage, feed their dog, cut their grass, or accomplish any of a multitude of other tasks.
Oh yeah, and they don’t get paid for doing anything! They often don’t get thanked. Many don’t get a day off, either.
But they do get a smile from time to time and the satisfaction of having done the right thing for someone dear to them.
In 2012 there was an estimated:
- More than 65 million caregivers
- 52 million caregivers caring for adults with an illness or disability
- 5 million family caregivers help adults over 50
- 9 million family caregivers provide care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease
- More women than men are family caregivers, but men are quickly increasing in number
- Many caregivers are themselves aging and may soon need care also
- Caregivers spend on average 20-35 hours per week providing care
- 70% of working caregivers have trouble at work related to their caregiving duties
- Caregivers often lose work hours due to absenteeism, have reduced productivity leading to loss of promotions, have a loss of wages, face early retirement to be a carer, lose benefits including their own health insurance, and lose their retirement funds
- 17% feel their personal health suffers due to caregiving
- 21% of those caring for a senior loved one over 65 report their caregiving has strained their physical health
- Being a caregiver to a person with dementia can impact the immune system up to 3 years after caregiving ends
- 40%-70% of caregivers show significant signs of depression
- Only 12% of caregivers report using respite services
- 78% report needing more help and information about caregiving
- 35% of caregivers report having difficulty finding time for themselves, 29% have difficulty managing emotional and physical stress and 29% report trouble balancing work and family responsibilities
These numbers are surely higher now three years later and with many more aging boomers needing help.
Helping Family Caregivers Cope
Those who know family caregivers can help them accomplish some of their day to day tasks so that they will be able to find some time in the busy day to actually care for themselves too!
Finding balance in caregiving, personal health, family and work/life is very difficult, especially when the number of tasks keeps growing.
Let them know reaching out to others for help along the way doesn’t mean family caregivers are failing at meeting their obligation. On the contrary, it shows they have a handle on getting everything done when they can’t do what it takes to get the job done even when they aren’t doing the actual job.
There’s no failure in that!
Knowing when to call in reinforcements is a ‘seize the day’ act of bravery!
Seizing the Day!
We all need to recharge our batteries and rest our minds from the bustle of everyday life – – even more so for those who have taken on the added responsibility of being a family caregiver.
Putting yourself first every once in a while makes you a smart caregiver who will be able to handle what life throws at them and stay healthy to be a caregiver.
Don’t shortchange your own needs.
How can you seize the day?
- Get respite! Don’t be one of the few who actually accept respite. It is available but for you to get it, you may need to seek it out. Perhaps it is a family friend who can sit with your senior loved one in the afternoon or overnight so that you can have a break. Maybe it is an organization who can provide a sitter or substitute caregiver for a period of time so that you can get relief.
- Take a vacation – a day, weekend or week or maybe longer! Pay for in-home care, arrange with a respite organization that provides this service, or send your senior loved one away to family or a care home for the time you will be away. You won’t do it often but deserve it, so don’t feel guilty about it. Your senior loved one’s safety is your top concern but your well-being should be important to you as well! Some families ‘share’ the senior loved one every three months or so relieving the other family member for a while so that each able person in the family becomes the primary caregiver at some point during the year. What a great way for families to pitch in not to mention enjoy their senior loved one!
- Take a walk, take a bubble bath, listen to your favorite music (not just theirs) or reach out to friends on the phone.
- Don’t be afraid to treat yourself with an hour nap or participating in a personal hobby during the day.
- If you feel like the multitude of other family caregivers who have difficulty managing the stress associated with caregiving or feel sad or depressed, seek professional help to care for yourself and learn coping strategies.
- Cook a meal that you want to eat, not just what you think everyone else wants.
- Get a good night’s sleep by having someone else listen for your senior loved one or attend to their overnight needs once a week.
- Stop and smell the roses, listen to the birds sing outside, or smell the fresh air! It only takes a moment to remember what you are there for and why you are a family caregiver!
Thank You for Caring!
Being a family caregiver is one of the most important roles you will have but that doesn’t mean it should sap you of yourself or your health.
During National Family Caregivers Month, we want to thank you for your caring spirit and encourage you to seize the day for yourself!
You need to be the best you can be to continue to care for your precious senior loved one as long as they need you!