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National Family Caregivers Month Recognizes Unsung Heroes

10 Nov

When President Barack Obama proclaimed November National Family Caregivers Month at a Whitehouse press conference in 2012, he noted that family caregivers have an immeasurable impact on the lives of the people they care for, their hours are long and their work is hard, and many of them put their own lives on hold to assist loved ones. “I encourage all Americans to pay tribute to those who provide for the health and well-being of their family members, friends, and neighbors,” he concluded.

According to statistics provided by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, more than 65 million Americans provide care for chronically ill, disabled or aged family members, and the average amount of time they spend caring for loved ones is 20 hours per week. Some caregivers spend more than 40 hours per week in their roles and most of them have full-time jobs and other family obligations. They experience a wide range of challenges and physical symptoms that can have a cumulative effect on their health and well-being.

Here at Health Journeys, we often hear from family caregivers who experience sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and physical symptoms related to stress and fatigue. We also get calls from wellness providers, family members or friends of caregivers asking for recommendations for guided imagery selections to provide assistance. To read Belleruth’s suggestions for a woman experiencing overwhelming emotions following her husband’s brain injury, read Help with Frustration and Anger at Husband with Brain Damage. Also take a look at Easing Caregiver Stress during Chemo.

Our guided imagery audio programs Caregiver Stress and Relaxation & Wellness by Belleruth Naparstek, are popular with family caregivers, who are often reluctant to address their own needs, because they feel their symptoms pale in comparison to the people they care for.

Jamie & Jim

Jamie has been a caregiver for her father, Jim, since an injury sustained during a robbery last December left him a quadriplegic.  During his hospitalization, Jim experienced several serious bouts of pneumonia and had other complications, but each time the situation looked grave, he triumphed.  Jim was released to go home in May, after Jamie underwent six weeks of training to care for him. “From the time he regained consciousness in the hospital, he longed to go home,” Jamie said. “I knew we had to do everything possible to make that happen for him.”


 
Jamie has a husband, full-time job and a new grandchild, but she makes time to care for Jim. “He’s my top priority,” she said. “He’s an amazing person. He has always been so loving and giving.” Jim’s family was told he would never be able to move his extremities, but since he went home, Jamie said he is able to raise both feet a few inches and he can move one of his arms. Jim’s high school graduating class has come together to help raise funds for his care. “His family and friends continue to pray for a miracle,” Jamie said, “and once in a while something miraculous happens.”

To read Jim’s story, click here.

Eric and Lisa

Eric and Lisa are caregivers for Eric’s mother Marian, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The couple moved from their new condo, in an upscale neighborhood, to the urban two-story house where Marian lived with her husband, who died before she was diagnosed. Eric quit his job and runs an at-home business and Lisa commutes 40 miles to work, but they both say it’s worth the sacrifices. “It helps her to be in familiar surroundings,” Eric said. “We tried having her live with us, but it just didn’t work,” added Lisa. “She would get so frightened when she didn’t recognize where she was, and a few times she left the house and tried to go home. We had to get the police to find her.”

Anne and Brian

Anne lost her job because she took so much time off to care for her husband, Brian, who sustained a brain injury in a fall. “I expected it,” said Anne, “but there was just nothing I could do to prevent it. My husband needed me. He’s slowly learning to do simple things like feed and dress himself, but I just couldn’t leave him alone.” Anne said she has learned to reach out to others and ask for help. “People will help you if you ask them,” she said, “But they don’t come around and volunteer. “ She also learned to seek assistance from agencies, support groups, her church, and anywhere she could. “I’ve always been very independent, but in this kind of situation we need to learn to ask for help,” she said. “I wish I had done this earlier. I might have kept my job.”

Caregiver Resources

Jamie, Eric, Lisa and Anne are examples of the millions of selfless individuals who care for loved ones, and we should celebrate these angels, not just in November, but every day. If you know of someone who is a family caregiver, offer assistance, prayers and praise for the invaluable service they provide. If you are a family caregiver, consult the following resources for suggestions on everything from finding assistance with funding to tips for self-care.

To join an online support group for family caregivers or find one that meets in your area, go to:
http://www.caregiver.org

Family caregivers in more than 40 states can join the Caregiver Action Network free of charge and find a number of services, including locating a volunteer to assist them. For information go to:
www.caregiveraction.org

One of several federal programs that provide assistance for family caregivers, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, through the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, works in partnership with Area Agencies on Aging and community service providers to offer a wide range of services to eligible caregivers. To find out if you are eligible for services, go to:
http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/HCLTC/Caregiver/index.aspx or call 202-619-0724.

A similar program, the Native American Caregiver Support Services, provides assistance to American Indian, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian family caregivers. For information, go to:
http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/HCLTC/Native Americans/index.aspx or call 202-619-0724.

Some other organizations that provide support and resources for family caregivers include:

Family Caregiver Alliance
http://www.caregiver.org

National Alliance for Caregiving
http://www.caregiving.org

Maggie DeMellier

Maggie DeMellier is a self-proclaimed reader, writer, runner and redhead. She worked as a surgical technician and pharmacy technician before she earned a BA in Mass Media Communication at The University of Akron. For ten years, she operated a freelance writing business, specializing in medical ads, news articles, features and business writing.  She was a teacher at a career college for six years, and earned a MA in Forensic Psychology in 2010. Maggie is the co-author of Parenting by Law or Grace, published by Synchronisity Press, in 2004.