National Family Caregivers Month
National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM), celebrated every November, is a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. It offers an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues, educate communities, and increase support for caregivers. As a geriatrician, I had countless opportunities to observe and marvel at the dedicated work caregivers provided to family members in our communities. Caregiving can be a thankless job for a family member, or as an employee. In my opinion, it is among the most stressful and lonely jobs.
Caregiving has become a major focus of interest that my wife Melissa and I have been addressing in our “reinspirement.” For years, I recognized the vital role caregivers play for my patients, friends and family members. It requires a steadfast dedication and focus to the task.
- Today, over 1 in 5 Americans are caregivers, having provided care to an adult or child with special needs in the past 12 months.
- This totals about 53 million unpaid adult caregivers in the United States, and it has increased by 10 million in the past 5 years.
- This total number of unpaid caregivers is staggering as is the cost of lost wages.
Connecting Caregivers Conference
In 2021 and again this year (2022), our good friend Linda Burhans has invited us to her Connecting Caregivers Conference. This year, Jessie Brown, an additional collaborator joined our presentation team. Jessie is an esteemed educator and technology expert who presents her solution for strengthening the connections between caregivers and care recipients. She brings the perspective as a daughter and caregiver to her aging father. Jessie observed the information gap between outside caregivers and her father, the care partner/recipient. She used her skills as a keen observer and tech expert to develop a valuable tool to bridge the gap. A key component for caregivers is to really know their care partner. Jessie’s method provides a fresh approach to bridge the knowledge gap in a novel and user-friendly way.
In the years leading up to the COVID pandemic and since, observers have found that as a society, we are suffering from a loneliness epidemic.
I often speak and write about the need to tackle loneliness as an imperative not only for caregivers and care recipients but the population as a whole. Besides the consequences of loneliness, we have to recognize the immense stress that the average caregiver faces. As caregivers, it is important to understand and then face the challenge to address your situation.
The Caregiver Lifeline Summit
This year Mary Elaine Petrucci invited me to provide similar messages to The Caregiver Lifeline Summit. Here are some of my recommendations to address the stress and loneliness associated with caregiving.
- Have a well thought out plan from the very start; one that includes escape valves and individuals who can provide help or a bailout in emergencies.
- Ask for and accept help or relief when offered.
- Know your limitations; avoid overextending yourself.
- Have a plan that includes respite; someone to provide relief, because 24/7/365 without relief puts you and your caregiving role at risk of failure.
- Take care of your own physical and mental health. A major crisis develops if you the caregiver becomes ill or incapacitated. This is a major reason for self-care.
- Take time for yourself. You will need to get away for periods to shop, see a movie, or be with friends.
- Attend support groups if appropriate.
- Remember to address stress with meditation, maintain a healthy diet, get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, exercise, and maintain connections with others.
Your Own Health
By addressing your own health, you become a healthier, more reliable, and resilient care provider or partner.
In addition, our personal connections might just be the emotional glue that we use to face the arduous task of daily caregiving. Caregivers deserve our supreme respect for what they do every day.
Based on the number of caregivers in our society, we must be prepared that our day may come to assume that role.
I encourage everyone to develop your own plan to connect with others and avoid the consequences of loneliness.
To a long and healthy life,
David Bernstein, MD