Recognizing November as National Family Caregivers Month

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On October 31st, 2013, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation recognizing November as National Family Caregivers Month.  In his proclamation, the President discussed the importance of spotlighting the more than 60 million Americans who have answered the selfless call to care for our nation’s seniors and persons with disabilities and illnesses.  The role these caregivers play is incredibly valuable to our healthcare system, and undeniably significant to those who benefit from their tireless work.  Caregivers wear many hats, and the juggling act of balancing these sometimes conflicting roles can be challenging.  Recognizing these heroes is imperative in supporting them and allowing them to realize that their efforts are respected.

American Family Caregivers Statistics
Those outside the healthcare and social services fields may be unfamiliar with how many Americans actually wear the title of “Caregiver” in our country.  Here are a few statistics to create a better understanding about our caregiver population:

  • Over 65.7 million Americans, or 29% of the adult population in the United States, provide some form of care to an individual who is disabled, elderly, or ill.
  • There is a visible gap when it comes to gender and caregiving.  It is estimated that 66% of caregivers in the United States are female, and of that figure, 34% (or one-third) provide care to two or more individuals.  48 years old is the average age of a female caregiver.
  • Close to 51% of caregivers are between the ages of 18-49.
  • Those who act as caregivers are typically older adults.  63 years old is the average age of caregivers who are providing care to an individual aged 65 years or older.  The health status of about one-third of these older caregivers is either fair or poor.

The financial impacts of caregiving in America:

  • An estimated $450 billion worth of unpaid care to loved ones are being provided by family caregivers each year.
  • As our older population continues to increase, these unpaid caregivers will become the largest source of long-term care services in our nation.
  • Taking on the responsibility of being a caregiver can greatly impact a caregiver’s time, activities, and money that has to be allotted to appropriately care for their loved ones.

Challenges of Being a Family Caregiver as an Older Adult
As aforementioned in the statistics section, we have a substantial number of adults entering retirement that are taking care of our old-old, and those living with disabilities and illnesses.  It seems almost paradoxical if you were to take a moment to grasp this trend.  When you reach a certain esteemed age, you envision your later years as a time of reflection, and relaxation by vacationing, spending time with grandchildren, and reconnecting with close and long-lost friends.  The reality for many of our Baby Boomers, however, is that they are caring for their frail parents, acting as “second-time around” parents to their grandchildren, and some are even caring for their adult children who have debilitating health statuses.  All of these factors place heavy strains on these aging caregivers’ emotional and physical health, especially if they are coping with their own severe medical illnesses.
Supporting Our Family Caregivers
Our caregivers are indeed providing inestimable (and unpaid) resources to those they love, but it is our duty as a society to inform and educate caregivers about the programs and services that exist that will allow them to fully grasp why their role as a caregiver is worthy, as well as provide opportunities for them to “recharge” their batteries and reconnect with who they are and their interests.  The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging (AoA) established the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) in 2000,  NFCSP provides grants to states and U.S. territories to fund a wide range of services and support systems to aid family and informal caregivers in their efforts to provide the best care to their loved ones.  Such services supported by the NFCSP includes informing caregivers of the services they could utilize in their communities, provide counseling services to caregivers who are overwhelmed with their role, develop caregiver support groups, offer training on how to be a caregiver, and make respite services available so that caregivers can practice self-care.  The Administration on Aging also funds the Lifespan Respite Care Program (LRCP), a program that was created in 2006 to enhance the respite services offered by states.
Sharing My Personal Experience as a Family Caregiver

Grandma & I at Vern's Graduation 1

My beloved Grandmother (who I call “Big V” on my personal blog) & I earlier this year.

Few of you may know that I am a family caregiver.  I live with my 84 year old grandmother who has cardiovascular disease and early stages of dementia.  I have been caring for my Grandmother since I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2008.  The role reversal from being given care to providing care was (and still is at times) a very harsh adjustment in our relationship.  My Grandmother raised me, and she has always been my rock and my biggest “cheerleader” in urging me to live my best life, despite my disability.  Though I am very fortunate that my Grandmother’s dementia was diagnosed in the beginning stages and is treated with medication to slow down the progression of the disease, it has been extremely difficult to watch her slowly lose her independence and confidence in who she is and what she used to be.  Seeing her struggle with this new “identity” has left her, and myself, to bout countless moments of tears and frustration.  My Grandmother may not be able to complete “complex” tasks independently such as keeping track of monthly bills; she is, however, very blessed to still have the ability to read the newspaper, write her own shopping lists and buy her own groceries (with little assistance while in the store), converse with family and friends, share her stories about her childhood as a young girl growing up in rural South Carolina during the 1930s, and continue to be a great friend and Grandmother to me.  Her health status may have taken some parts of her from us, but in many ways, she is still a fighter and her strength uplifts me when I am down.
Being a young caregiver is stressful, but it is a job that I would not trade for the world.  My Grandmother is proud of the fact that I am caring for her, and I am proud that I have the opportunity to spend time with her.  We experience good and bad days and weeks, but when you love someone as much as I do my Grandmother, you try to learn from the challenging times, and cherish the laughter and hugs that accompany those special moments.
Ramping Your Voice as a Family Caregiver
Sharing your experiences as a caregiver is vital so that more effective and supportive programs and services can be established to alleviate some of the burdens felt by the millions of adults providing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week care to their loved ones.  If you are a caregiver, I urge you to leave a comment below this article, or send me an email at:  Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com.  We must support each other, and I am willing to provide a platform for support to each and one of you.
(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.)

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