Honoring the Family Caregivers in our Lives
National Family Caregivers Month is celebrated every year in November: it is the time when we take this opportunity to thank and honor those who lovingly and willingly care for their loved ones. On October 31, 2023, President Biden issued a proclamation highlighting the critical role of family caregivers and their collaboration with agencies, medical providers and professional caregivers to work as a team in providing a wrap-around care for their loved ones.
While family caregivers provide the necessary and crucial services in preventing and delaying the need for expensive institutional care, oftentimes, their decisions may have negative impacts on their own physical and mental health, financial well-being, family life, and career. According to the most recent data by AARP: about 38 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 36 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities. The estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was approximately $600 billion in 2021. In March 2023, NJ AARP reported more than 1 million family caregivers provided more than $17 billion of unpaid care to loved ones of all ages who are disabled, chronically ill or has mental health issues. (see full report here: AARP Family Caregivers)
The age of a family caregiver can range from 14 years old to well into the 80s, with a median age of 49.2 years old who are sandwiched between caring for their spouses, parents, and children. The majority of the family caregivers are working full-time or are attending schools while providing daily care for their loved ones. They may also be taking care of more than 1 individual who may or may not be living together with them. They often feel physically and mentally exhausted, stressed, anxious, increased isolation, and likely to ignore their own physical and mental health wellness and self-care due to the lack of finances, time, and coping skills. This can lead to compassion fatigue, guilt, anger, resentment, and bouts of depression. Unfortunately, the COVID 2020 outbreak has worsened the situation since there has been a decrease in the number of professional healthcare professionals especially in the care-taking industry.
The State of NJ provides the following as resources and support for the family caregivers:
Here are 10 tips for family caregivers provided by the Caregiver Action Network in Washington DC:
- Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone!
- Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
- Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
- Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
- Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
- Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
- Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
- Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
- Make sure legal documents are in order.
- Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!
Here are a few more tips for family caregivers to practice self-care:
- Join a caregiver support group:
- Learn de-escalation methods and grounding skills
- Prioritize nutrition by making simple and healthy meals
- Set up healthy boundaries by saying “NO”
- Ask for flexibility at work or consider taking time off
- Spend quality time with others who are not in your care-taking environment
- Take time for spiritual practices/meditation/mindfulness activities
- Find time for exercise
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Make time for your hobbies and interests
- Play with your pets
- Consider professional help such as therapists, coaches or spiritual leaders in your community
- Practice self-compassion
- Set realistic expectations and goals for yourself while practicing self-care
At the same time, here are a few things to express your appreciation towards the amazing caregivers in your lives: (remember that our family caregivers feel less stressed when they feel appreciated and validated)
- Be flexible and be open to arrange other support system to give your caregiver a break
- Stock up on their favorite snacks, fruits, and drinks so they can enjoy them when they are caring for you
- Create a cozy and private space at your home for your caregiver (to take a break) so they will feel comfortable and welcome
- Ask your caregiver how they are doing and listen to them to show you care and appreciate their time
- Give them a day off regularly
- Gift cards to their favorite shops/restaurants/activities: here are a few suggestions in Jersey City:
- Connect with community services so you do not rely solely on your caregiver
- Treat them with kindness and respect
- Be appreciative and thankful
- Seek professional therapy care (if and when you need it) since your family caregiver is not your personal therapist
- Write a genuine thank-you note for your caregiver
I have been reflecting upon First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s quote on family caregivers, “There are only four kinds of people in the world — those that have been caregivers, those that are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers”. It is true that at some point in our lives, we are either the caregivers or the ones who are receiving care. I am being reminded that family caregivers are our parents, our children, grandchildren, spouses, partners, in-laws, friends, neighbors, and ourselves, so let’s take the time this month to appreciate and thank those who are the family caregivers in our lives.
Christina Kuo is a licensed therapist and a wellness advisor at NIH where she creates and delivers mental health wellness programs and workshops. She spends most of her time working and living in the Tri-state and the New England regions where she explores local yarn and fabric shops, bakery, bubble tea shops, and restaurants. She also enjoys watching Japanese Anime and Chinese martial arts series while knitting or hand-sewing.