If you’ve ever been the primary caregiver for a child, elder, or someone with disabilities, you already know why National Family Caregivers Month is so important. About 66 million aging Americans need care, and who better to provide it than a loving family member?
Love is powerful, but caregiving is tough. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult healthcare roles of all. The days are long, the work is often undervalued and underpaid, and our family members don’t always appreciate the emotional and financial toll it takes to provide care for our loved ones.
The month of November was established as National Family Caregivers Month in 2015 by President Barack Obama to show appreciation and support to those who provide much-needed care for others.
Taking care of an aging parent or special needs child is rewarding — and incredibly stressful. Since most care takes place in the home, caregivers often feel isolated, lonely, and unappreciated. Managing medications, arranging doctor appointments, planning meals, and keeping your loved one active are all necessary tasks, but they can be very stressful for a caregiver to manage.
According to the Caregiver Action Network, one out of five caregivers admits they have sacrificed their own physical health while caring for a loved one. Due to stress, family caregivers have a disproportionate number of health and emotional problems. They are twice as likely to suffer depression and are at increased risk for many other chronic conditions, including:
Self-care is critical to providing care. Caregivers often step into the role assuming it will be temporary; but as a loved one’s condition gets worse — or other family members fail to step in and help — caregiving can become an ongoing job. It’s critical to establish strong boundaries, healthy habits, and rules for self-care, in order to stay healthy — and sane!
Do not feel guilty when you attend to your own life and needs. Caregivers have friends and families of their own. And what about financial goals, hobbies, and education? You have a right to attend to your own life, and that might mean saying “no” to caregiving duties. That’s okay.
Establishing boundaries can be difficult, especially if you’re caring for a parent or someone in a position of authority. But it’s essential for the health of everyone involved. (Remember: Just because someone asks you to do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it!)
Related resource: How to Provide Care to Elderly Patients
If you’ve done any caregiving yourself, you know there are good ways and bad ways to lift disabled people. There are tips, tricks, and techniques that make their (and your) life easier. To provide the best care, consider enrolling in an occupational therapist assistant (OTA) program to gain industry-standard skills.
If you’re already performing caregiving duties, consider formalizing your training and pursuing a rewarding career. The employment outlook for OTAs estimates job growth to be 34 percent — much higher than most other professions. Additionally, OTAs make an average salary of $61,520 per year, which is enough for a high standard of living in most places.
Joyce University’s OTA program is only 20 months long and comes with lifetime job placement.
Related resource: 10 Creative OTA Therapy Ideas to Improve Skills and Function
There are many caregiver support networks. The Family Caregiver Alliance, National Alliance for Caregiving, Caregiver Action Network, even Medicare, and many others are all in place to create a support system for those who care.
During National Family Caregivers Month, some businesses offer free services for caregivers, and they should. The care provided by family caregivers is worth about $306 billion annually.
If you’re caring for a family member, thank you. Your charge maintains a happier, healthier quality of life as a direct result of your care.