About Family Caregiving
November is National Family Caregiving Month and while many of us might not consider ourselves caregivers, the truth is that the majority of today’s Americans are. Tasks that were previously done in hospitals and by professionals are increasingly done at home by family members who decide to provide care on their own. In 2009 alone, there were roughly 42.1 million caregivers in the U.S., providing an estimated $450 billion worth of unpaid care.
The increase in family caregiving can be attributed to the rising cost of healthcare, the aging of the baby boomer generation, and includes religious and cultural beliefs about extended family care.
Did you know? 1 in 4 adults in America is caring for someone they love who needs help, most likely a parent. Today’s caregivers bear much more medical responsibility than their parents did. Half of today’s caregivers perform nursing level tasks that would frighten even a first-year nursing student. Hospitals today are releasing patients quicker and sicker and technology unheard of when today’s caregivers were children now comes home with the patient.
Plus, today’s caregivers hold down paid jobs. They juggle all this responsibility because that’s what families do. The average U.S. caregiver, a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week providing unpaid care for her mother for nearly five years. Family caregivers are only becoming more important.
Family Caregiving Responsiblities
Many believe that caregiving is the responsibility of medical staff or trained in-home care providers, but the reality is that family caregivers are more often regular individuals like you and me, who provide care for an elder parent, a disabled spouse or a special needs adult child. Essentially, we are the ones now providing medical or therapy-specific care to our loved ones and that means that our families need more support than ever to meet the demands of our caregiving responsibilities.
Many of the women in my family have been caregivers at one point or another. My mother worked as a nurse for years, mostly providing elder care. My tía provided care to my grandmother at the end of her life, which included tasks as simple as taking her blood pressure, to changing colostomy bags, cleaning bed sores and fine-tuning life support machines. My grandmother died at the age of 83 in my aunt’s home. And while the choice to provide care was I’m sure a difficult and scary decision, I know she appreciates the closeness and comfort that she provided to my grandmother during the final years of her life.
Caregiving can be a scary thought for many and often there is little support once you take your family members home. Family caregiving duties can easily become overwhelming, seemingly beyond your abilities and even disrupt your other family and work responsibilities. So how do you balance work, family, caregiving and everything in between?
Lessening the Task of Family Caregiving
Many caregivers often don’t ask for help nearly as much as they need it. Knowing where to turn for support can be just as important as our task of caregiving. So what can you do to ensure that you get all of the help that you need?
Ask questions. Before you leave the doctor’s office, ask questions and get the information of someone who you can contact when anything comes up that you’re not quite sure of. Often times, doctor’s offices will have an on call nurse who can answer questions or refer you to an 800 number where you can call in with questions.
Build a Resource List. When you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, don’t give up. Search the internet, call a local organization or dial up another family member or friend. You never know what help they might be able to offer or if they can refer you to another helpful source. Make sure you write up a list of all the resources that you have used and keep them on the refrigerator or in a safe place where they are readily available in stressful moments.
Take Breaks. Set a schedule for days or tasks that others can help with. Ask family members and friends to pitch in when possible and be sure to make time for yourself. Some elder care facilities offer “day break” or similar programs to families at little to no cost to you. Find out if there are opportunities like this in your community and take advantage them.
Take Advantage of Community Initiatives. Also be sure to take advantage of initiatives for family caregivers like the one provided by AARP. Whether they be local or national programs, find out if there is support in your area. Maybe there is a group for emotional support of family caregivers or financial support for elder care assistance. Ask around about local programs and find out whether you qualify for help.
AARP CEO Barry Rand, Caregiver
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DISCLAIMER: BiculturalMom.com is partnered with AARP to bring you tips and informational resources about elder care and family caregiving. This is an outreach to caregivers in partnership with The Mission List, a network of bloggers who use their influence for social good. All opinions are my own.