It’s National Family Caregivers Month

This year’s theme is “Respite: Care for Caregivers”

The Caregiver Action Network, the nation’s leading family caregiver organization that advocates for the more than 90 million Americans who care for disabled, sick, or elderly loved ones, cites these facts about family caregiving in the U.S.:

  • About 39 percent of adult Americans are caring for a loved one who is sick, disabled, or living with frailties of old age. That’s up from 30 percent in 2010.
  • Men are now almost as likely to say they are family caregivers as women are (37 percent of men; 40 percent of women). Surprisingly, 36 percent of younger Americans between ages 18 and 29 say they are family caregivers.
  • Family caregivers are the only people who are present with patients in all care settings.Patients may have more than one doctor; nurses change shifts; prescriptions are filled at different pharmacies. But family caregivers are there as full partners with their loved ones through it all.
  • Most families have to tighten their belts at home to pay for out-of-pocket caregiving costs (an average of $5,500 per year). And many more have to make home alterations to ensure safety, security, and cleanliness for their loved ones.

Ways to Help a Caregiver

The theme of this year’s National Family Caregivers Month is “Respite: Care for Caregivers.” Given that caregiving is a demanding, round-the-clock job, what can we do to help and support to caregivers in our families and communities? The Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/alzheimers/art-20048212?pg=1) offers tips on how to help caregivers of adults with Alzheimer’s, but their advice applies to caregivers of loved ones with all types of disabilities, diseases, and limitations. 

Be Specific

First, Mayo Clinic staff advise people offering help to be specific. General offers to help can be hard for caregivers to accept, so make concrete offers. Here are examples:

  • “What can I pick up for you at the grocery store?”
  • “I’m free tomorrow afternoon. Can I sit in for you while you take a few hours off?”
  • “I doubled my meatloaf recipe, so I bought enough to last you for several meals.”
  • “Can I help you gather laundry? I’ll take it home and bring it back clean and folded tomorrow.”
  • “Can I come over this weekend and mow your lawn?”

Check in

Sending a card, calling, or texting and emailing can be meaningful ways to show support, but personal visits are even better. Contact with friends and family can lift a caregiver’s spirits—and visits give you the chance to make specific offers to help, or to deliver food and other necessities.

Watch for Caregiver Stress

Often caregivers have difficulty accepting help—they mistakenly believe they should be able to do everything themselves. Overwhelmed caregivers are vulnerable to suffering from irritability, anger, exhaustion, social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression, among other problems. Caregiver stress can be harmful not only to the caregiver, but also to the person receiving care. Be gently persistent in specific offers to help. Let the caregiver know that he or she isn’t in this alone.