Who is a family caregiver? Who is providing $306 billion of “free caregiving services” to support our health care system? Certainly doctors, nurses, social workers, home care aides, psychologists and members of the clergy are givers of care. But are they caregivers?
“Family” caregivers are those individuals who provide care to a loved one who is chronically ill or disabled. I put the word “family” in quotes because it is meant to be an inclusive term that has under its umbrella close friends, neighbors and partners—anyone who has an emotional attachment to the care recipient and who acts like family. The term “caregiver” itself does not clearly reflect this bond.
Today, family caregivers are supporting our entire health care system by providing more than 80 percent of all home care services. Today 40 percent provide some level of nursing support, including wound and medication management.
National Family Caregivers Month, observed every November, is a nationally recognized month that seeks to draw attention to the many challenges facing family caregivers, advocate for stronger public policy to address family caregiving issues, and raise awareness about community programs that support family caregivers. NFC Month is a time to thank, support, educate and advocate for the more than 50 million family caregivers across the country.
Over the past decade the awareness gained by family caregivers and others has changed caregiving from a private family situation to a societal issue. Today policy makers, employers, insurers and health care professionals are beginning to address the concerns of family caregivers. Now, it is important to continue to build on the awareness and promote meaningful action. Family caregiving is an issue for all of us. It has been said that there are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers. None of us will be excluded.
Join us this month and into the New Year by caring every day for family caregivers. Take action either yourself or with family members, friends or members of your church or synagogue to bring dinner to a caregiving family once a week, or provide respite time, leaf raking, or transportation. There are so many ways to help. The goal is to take action and reach out to caregivers.
Typically, family caregivers have great difficulty asking for help. You can make it easier for them to both ask for and accept help by offering something very specific and non-threatening, such as the suggestions noted above. Don’t forget to say when you’ll bring the meal or rake the lawn. It will serve as a commitment that the family caregiver can count on. A little bit of help can go a long way. Together we can make a difference.
PAMELA GIACOIADirector of Senior ServicesSouthampton Town