November is National Family Caregiver Month, a time to focus attention on the more than 50 million Americans (nearly 1 in 5 people) who care for loved ones with health or functional needs. In the U.S., Family Caregiver Month was designated 24 years ago to focus specifically on those who provide unpaid support for individuals experiencing a loss of independence due to aging, those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and family members of any age who are living with disabilities. Today we are putting this group of caregivers in the spotlight while acknowledging the caregiver umbrella includes many selfless individuals who attend to others’ needs day-in and day-out.
If you are a family caregiver, we see you, thank you and hope you find information below to support you. If you are not a family caregiver, take five now to learn how you can support friends and co-workers in this role.
Family caregiver snapshot
A Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 infographic dispels any stereotypes about who family caregivers are. Did you know that 29% of family caregivers are Millennials or Gen-Z? Or that 30% are caring for a child under the age of 18 while also caring for another loved one? Or that 60% of family caregivers have a paid job, too?
Unlike parenting, caring for adult loved ones or children with special needs is relatively invisible. Everyone has a good idea of what most parents do. We were all children once, a lot of parenting is done publicly and many have first-hand experience raising kiddos. In contrast, colleagues and friends may not even know that someone has family care responsibilities, much less what their daily lives are like.
Emotionally, it is often hard caring for a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who used to take care of you, or for a life partner who can no longer be by you in familiar ways. Physically, family caregivers may be assisting someone who is much larger in size and/or who is at risk of falling, needs assistance with self-care or has physical outbursts. Mentally, family caregivers are often responsible for their love one’s medical, legal and financial affairs. There is also significant joy in family caregiving – moments of laughter, connection, gratitude and memory sharing. Click here for some short quotes from caregivers about what they wish others knew about their experience.
Supporting family caregivers
Chances are you have a friend, family member or co-worker who is taking care of a loved one. Here are some ways to support them.
Listen and affirm.
Caregivers can feel guilt or shame when they talk about their responsibilities or isolation, as if telling their story is complaining about the loved one they are caring for. Give them a place to vent openly, honestly and without judgment. Resist the urge to jump-in with advice unless the caregiver asks for it or says its welcome. Listening and telling them they are doing their very best sounds simple but can be too-rare of an experience and truly matters.
Tell them how much you appreciate them!
Are you forever grateful to your parent for looking after your disabled sibling? To your sibling for helping look after elderly parents? Call them and tell them, send them a card, send them flowers, take them out for dinner – whatever method fits your relationship best.
Help with daily tasks.
Offer to drop-off pre-cooked meals that can be eaten right away and are easy to freeze. Don’t forget to see if anyone in the household has a restricted diet. Offer your time to help them one day every month or two with caregiving errands, things like picking up groceries, giving their kids a ride or offering your company while they are running their errands (emotional support is invaluable to all of us). A simple ride to the grocery store for caregivers who rely on public transit can save precious time.
Ask them what they would find supportive.
Often, in our excitement to help, we forget to stop and ask those who we want to help what they actually need or want. Don’t forget that everyone’sdesired supports are different.
UW resources for caregivers
UW offers a variety of resources to support family caregivers ranging from flexible work arrangements to family care benefits like these:
- UW CareLink offers comprehensive services ranging from elder care assessment, help finding in-home or in-center care, financial and legal advice and personal counseling.
- In-home adult and elder backup care.
- Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), a way to set-aside a portion of salary pre-taxes to pay for eligible expenses.
- Sittercity membership to find companion care givers
- Years Ahead, which offers needs assessment, resource library, and search tools to find elder caregivers and facilities.
- The Whole U’s mindfulness and fitness activities make taking care of yourself a little easier. Classes are offered throughout the week, many of which are shorter than 15 minutes and several yoga are available on-demand.
The caregiving village
Many organizations exist for the sole purpose of helping caregivers navigate their responsibilities and, most important, to help them care for themselves. UW Combined Fund Drive is in full-swing and we encourage you to learn more about these organizations and to volunteer or donate money if you are able. Click a link below to learn about a few organizations supporting family caregivers in Washington state, or use the CFD non-profit search tool to find others.
The Alzheimer’s Association works to maximize quality care and support for people living with Alzeimer’s and all other dementia.
Cancer Lifeline is a leader in providing non-medical support services to cancer patients, survivors, family members, friends and co-workers.
The Independence Fund is committed to empowering our nation’s severly wounded, injured or ill Veterans, improving the lives of both Veterans and their families.
Sound Generations promotes the emotional, social and physical well-being of seniors, their families and caregivers
Wise Caregiving helps caregivers become more effective, sustainable and joyful by teaching the arts of contemplative care. They support professional and famiy caregivers with classes, retreats, mentorship and counseling.