You’ve probably bumped into one without even knowing it. Chances are, you bump into one or more every single day.
I’m talking about caregivers. They’re everywhere.
Right now, there are 16 million family and friend caregivers in America taking care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s. That’s one in every 20 people. (This isn’t counting the thousands who are caring for loved ones with cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, heart disease and other terminal illnesses.)
Imagine all the people you come in contact with every day ~ at work, school, the grocery store, carpool, the post office, restaurants, parties, neighborhood gatherings, anywhere you go in a given day. Even if you spend the day in your PJs and fuzzy slippers, if you’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snap Chat, WhatsApp, Google or YouTube, you’ve bumped into a few caregivers.
So why is this so important? Because if you aren’t a caregiver, there’s a good chance you could become one at some point in your life. In our western culture, caregiving isn’t something you plan on doing. It’s really a role that is bestowed upon you as your parents age.
Perhaps Rosalynn Carter said it best: “There are only four kinds of people in this world:
- Those who have been caregivers
- Those who currently are caregivers
- Those who will be caregivers, and
- Those who will need caregivers.
More than 8 years ago, I left my life in our nation’s capital and moved back down south to become a caregiver for my Father. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The lessons I’ve learned have filled up a book and I’m still learning something new every week. You can go to school for just about anything, but unless you plan to be a nurse, you’ll have no training for being a caregiver. So what should you do?
Most people wait until their parent has a major health crisis before they sit down to make a plan. DON’T BE THIS PERSON! Even if you don’t have the best relationship with your parent, it’s extremely important to begin the conversation about what they want and if they’ve made any plans so far for their later years. There are several online guides to walk you through this process.
If you are a caregiver, then you probably haven’t even had a chance to read this far. You’re trying to function on little sleep and frayed nerves. You’re thinking of all the things that must be done for your loved one and somehow squeeze in a few minutes for yourself. Please understand that when I say this, I’m also talking to myself. You need to take care of yourself.
Caregiving compromises health. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 60% of caregivers show signs of clinical depression, and caregivers take more prescription medications, including those for anxiety and depression, than others in their age group.
The Family Caregiver Alliance offers the following tips:
Support ~ Caregiving is very isolating. Support groups can provide understanding and connection.
Guilt ~ There is no perfect caregiver. And you are not being selfish to think about yourself and your needs and feelings.
Setting Limits ~ Learn to ask for help. When friends or neighbors offer help, accept it.
Your Body ~ If at all possible, try to get plenty of rest. You may need a friend or neighbor to sit with your loved one so you can take a nap. Taking care of your own health is just as important as taking care of your loved one’s health, so talk to your doctor and ask how you can build up your immune system and your emotional reserve.
Education ~ Learn as much as you can about this illness so you can understand what is happening. Attend workshops or support groups for educational purposes.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. So if you know a caregiver, give them a hug or a kind word. If you are a caregiver, do something for yourself. You’ll be so glad you did.