In addition to being National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, November is also designated National Family Caregivers Month. And that makes good sense, because more than 15 million Americans are currently acting as primary caregivers for family members with Alzheimer’s Disease. Still, those 15 million earth angels represent only a quarter of the over 65 million people sacrificing their time, energy and even financial well-being to care for those they love.
Portrait of a family caregiver
According to the most recent statistics, a family caregiver is likely to be female — women comprise as much as 75 percent of family caregivers in this country and devote 50 percent more time to caregiving than their male counterparts. Together their work represents about 300 billion dollars worth of personal and medical care each year; an incredible dollar amount that’s only an estimate of the value of the work they do out of love, at no charge. Despite the millions of unpaid hours these devoted folks spend caring for their loved ones, most of them also have full or part-time jobs.
It’s extremely common for caregivers to feel stress as they stretch their time between work, caregiving and the demands of their own family life. Family caregivers can feel isolated from friends and the support of their own social network, since those are the most easily sacrificed to the needs of a loved one. Most often, while the family caregiver is largely responsible for communicating the needs of their loved one to doctors, therapists and other involved medical professionals, her own needs and well-being are largely invisible.
Putting their own concerns last while selflessly devoting their lives to the health and happiness of others, these compassionate people clearly deserve our gratitude, our help and our support. Following are few suggestions for ways you can do just that for the caregiver in your family or social circle.
How to support your family caregiver
- Organize other family members or friends into a cadre of respite care workers, and give your family caregiver some valuable “me time.” Allow her the freedom to spend time with friends, get a massage, or simply put her feet up at home and relax. Your group may want to consider making this a permanent arrangement for once or twice a week respite.
- Send flowers and a sincere thank-you card, and tell your family caregiver exactly how much her devotion has meant to you and other family members. Include a restaurant gift certificate in the card, and offer to help make the time for a relaxing evening out by offering elder care or babysitting duties.
- Ask local businesses — coffee shops, beauty parlors, grocery stores, etc. — to honor family caregivers during the month of November with free services or special promotions.
- Help your family caregiver prepare for the holiday season by addressing Christmas cards, doing some of her Christmas shopping, or helping to decorate her home for the holidays. Better yet, prepare a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for a family caregiver you know, and give her some priceless holiday time enjoying her own family.
There is a family caregiver in one out of every three homes in America. This month, please join us in celebrating the devotion and selflessness of these wonderful people!