November is National Family Caregiver’s Month. This is organized annually by the National Family Caregiver’s association as a time to thank, support, educate and empower the many family caregivers across the country. One of the essential attributes of being a family caregiver, and an advocate for your loved one, is the willingness and the ability to speak up and keep your eye on the ultimate goal, protecting not only the health and safety of your loved ones but your own as well.
Many of us are asked to care for another person – to become family caregivers. Perhaps you were called to the task after a loved one’s illness slowly progressed to the point where they needed help at home, or you were called to help after a sudden tragic accident or illness. Your caregiving responsibility may be short-term, long-term, or indefinite. Whatever the circumstances, the road ahead on your caregiving journey may seem long and uncertain. Know that you are not alone. Although you may feel isolated, together, family caregivers are part of a larger community. More than 44.4 million people in the United States, or 21% of the population, serve as unpaid caregivers to an adult family member or friend. If you look around, you might find that a coworker cares for an elderly parent at home, or a family friend might be a caregiver to a spouse with a severe illness. Each caregiver situation is unique, yet all share everyday experiences that encompass physical, emotional, and spiritual as well as economic and legal concerns.
First, you need to know that it is okay to ask for help. Caregiving presents considerable challenges, such as physical, emotional, and economic situations that you may face. There is no reason to suffer in silence. It is always okay to seek and ask for help. Do not feel guilty or like you have failed if you need assistance caring for a family member or friend. Support is available, and you are encouraged to seek it out, even if you do not need it. Services, information, training, and counseling can help you provide better care to your loved one. It can also help you protect your health and financial future.
The life of the person you are caring for has likely changed forever. Likewise, yours may vary, perhaps dramatically, as you adjust your already busy life to include caring for another person. You may feel socially isolated as if you are the only person facing caregiving struggles. However, if you reach out during this time for help and information, you might discover that the stories of other caregivers mirror your account. When you reach out to others in similar situations, you might find that they can voice feelings that you cannot describe. Many people find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.
You might not even realize that you are a caregiver. What do family caregivers do? Caregivers assist those who struggle to do these things for themselves with daily living activities. The following are some of the duties you might be performing:
- Transportation and Running Errands.
- Grocery Shopping and Meal Preparation
- Housework and Laundry
- Medication assistance and reminders
- Managing finances and services.
- Assistance with Personal Care (bathing, getting dressed, toileting, and getting in and out of bed and chairs).
The increase in the elderly population, coupled with the need to care for them, has led to the recognition of family caregivers in a more formal sense by the healthcare industry, government, and the community. As a result, there has been a steady rise in the number of advocacy groups and government programs available to help family caregivers with counseling, education, training, and legal and financial needs. You may find that the following resources are of great assistance to you:
· National Alliance for Caregiving – www.caregiving.org
· National Family Caregivers Association – www.thefamilycaregiver.org
· Well Spouse Association – www.wellspouse.org
You may only be immediately skilled in some of the duties involved in caregiving. While bathing and feeding someone may seem like simple tasks, there are tips and tricks you can learn to make assisting in the activities of daily living easier. Safety is also an issue, especially since most care recipients are elderly or disabled in some way. The AARP offers free online seminars on various aspects of family caregiving. You can find them at www.aarp.org.
Navigating the Health Care Maze
Patients, family caregivers, and even health professionals often do not know what Medicare and health insurance will pay for. Family members and patients are frequently shocked to find that insurance will not pay for many services and items needed at home that are routinely paid for in the hospital. Unless a care recipient has long-term care insurance (and only a tiny percentage of Americans do), many home care needs are covered only for an initial, short-term period or are not covered at all. This includes home care, aides, or attendants. To help you navigate the complicated healthcare maze, you should:
· Know what your insurance will cover and for how long
· Identify and use all available resources
· Be assertive about your rights.
If you don’t know where to begin, start with a local organization and ask questions. Let your local senior service organizations help you with your quest for information.
Your caregiving journey may be rewarding and challenging. Remember, you are not alone as a family caregiver; help is out there.
· Take charge of your life, and don’t let your loved one’s illness or disability always take center stage.
· Remember to be good to yourself. Love, honor, and value yourself. You’re doing a formidable job and deserve quality time just for you.
· Watch out for signs of depression, and don’t delay getting professional help when needed.
· When people offer to help, they accept the offer and suggest specific things they can do.
· Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition. Information is empowering.
· There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence.
· Trust your instincts. Most of the time, they’ll lead you in the right direction.
· Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
· Stand up for your rights as a caregiver.
· Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.