The role of a family caregiver is as dynamic as it is diverse. Caregivers are anyone who provide support, physically or emotionally, to a loved one fighting a disease or illness. From spouses and children, to siblings and friends, caregivers come in many forms. This November, National Family Caregivers Month, let’s take time to honor all the caregivers in our lives and reflect on our own caregiving experiences.
The support family caregivers provide ranges from being a friendly ear when a loved one with a chronic illness needs to talk, to an advocate and shared decision making participant at a doctor’s appointment. Often times, people don’t even realize that the support they provide makes them a caregiver. Yet, whether or not people use the word “caregiver” to refer to themselves, it’s important that they recognize the significance of the role they play.
Most—if not all—of the 43.5 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S. have responsibilities in addition to caregiving. In fact, between 13-22% of American workers juggle caregiving responsibilities with their jobs. Many caregivers also have personal responsibilities, such as raising children and ensuring that their own health stays on track. So, while the term “caregiver” implies a one-way transaction of a person providing care to another, the truth is that caregivers need support, too.
So, what steps can caregivers take to support themselves? The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) provides practical advice for caregivers in their 10 Tips for Family Caregivers resource. Here are our key takeaways for caregivers from CAN’s list:
- Find strength in community—there are tens of thousands of people out there going through a similar experience as you. You can learn from each other and support one another in your caregiving efforts.
- Brush up on your health literacy skills—effective communication with doctors is key to helping make the best decisions with your loved one about his/her care.
- Make time for yourself so that you can provide the best support possible to your loved one—exercise, take breaks, and give yourself credit for all that you do.
So, if you are a caregiver, take these tips above and put them into action. If you have caregivers in your life who either support you or who you support, share these tips with them—and thank them for the important work they do.