November is National Family Caregivers month, a time where we recognize and honor the more than 53 million Americans who care for their aging or disabled loved ones (AARP). Managing medications, scheduling doctor appointments, preparing meals, and keeping your loved one active during the day are all necessary tasks, but they can be very stressful for caregivers to manage on their own. In fact, according to AARP, one out of five caregivers admit they have sacrificed their own physical health while caring for a loved one.
Love is powerful, but caregiving is tough. Caring for a family member is a full-time job. This year, the theme of the month is #CaregivingHappens, reflecting the reality that caregiving does not always happen at a convenient time or is expected, it just happens. Recognizing and supporting family caregivers is a public health issue that we cannot afford to ignore. So what unique challenges do caregivers face and how can we support them?
Caregiving Just Happens
As a family caregiver, caregiving can happen at any time. Whether they are at a grocery store shopping or driving to work, they are on call 24/7. Caregivers invest time, money, and an immense amount of energy caring for their loved one. By making this sacrifice, family caregivers face a plethora of unique challenges such as isolation, burnout, and financial strain. But what exactly does this look like for a caregiver?
When so much of one’s time is spent caring for one person, isolation can be easy to experience. It is hard to make time to do things that one once did or, for that matter, even think about the things they found joy in doing prior to taking the role of being a family caregiver. Isolation is a precursor to burnout, so it is vital that caregivers schedule time out of their busy day to meet with a friend, go on a walk, or even go to a local event to meet other people.
If a caregiver completely neglects her needs and focuses 100% of her time on the person she is caring for, burnout will likely occur. Although it is easy to think of “selflessness” as a good thing, it can also cause a lot of harm. Just as burnout can happen to those who overwork themselves in their career, the same thing can happen in caregiving. Since caregiving can be a full-time job at times, if the stress is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and the quality of care you are able to provide.
Since most family caregivers are unpaid, many experience financial strain during their caregiving journey. In fact, research from AARP shows that nearly 8 in 10 of those caring for an adult family member are facing regular out-of-pocket costs. The study also found that nearly half of family caregivers (47%) experienced at least one financial setback such as having to take on more personal debt, dip into their personal savings, or reduce how much they save for their retirement. Caregivers are the backbone to our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking from the lack of support.
How exactly can we best support caregivers?
Emotional support: Caregivers need someone to listen to their needs and frustrations without judgment or unsolicited advice. With isolation being a common symptom of caregiving, it is important for them to know someone cares about them. Having that person to vent, cry, and talk to can ease those feelings of guilt, frustration, and stress.
Give time to recharge: Often caregivers don’t know where to turn or who to ask when they need things or help. Between managing medications, preparing meals, and driving their loved ones to doctor appointments, caregivers often find themselves wishing there were more hours in the day to tackle everything they need or want to do. Devoting an afternoon to running errands for them or scheduling a time to visit them for a couple of hours is a great way to support a busy caregiver. Caregivers often find that their social circles shrink over time so having the opportunity to reconnect with friends is a great way to recharge.
Recognize their hard work: Family caregivers are unsung heroes. While caregiving looks a little different for each family, the mental and physical fortitude exhibited by all who take on this role should be regarded as a superpower. Due to the common feelings of isolation and burnout, caregivers often feel under-appreciated for their efforts. Recognize their hard work by surprising a caregiver with a treat, such as fresh flowers, a coffee, or a gift card for their favorite restaurant.
Being a caregiver is no easy task. It is important to show our gratitude to these unsung heroes and the work they do on a daily basis. This month and every day, let’s celebrate the caregivers in our lives, commend their strengths, and give thanks to the daily sacrifices they make.
About the author:
Jennah Worthington is a Brand Ambassador Intern for illuminate.health and is a senior studying Healthcare & Business at Butler University. She has a passion for the pharmaceutical industry and gaining a deeper understanding of the roles of health providers, insurers, and administrators. She strives to help find ways to increase accessibility in various areas of healthcare. Jennah resides in Indianapolis and enjoys going on walks with her Dalmatian.