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November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the essential role played by 53 million Americans who serve as family caregivers — nearly 80 percent of whom look after care receivers who are 50 years of age or older.
At any hour of any day in America, family caregivers are providing essential care to relatives and friends. These family caregivers assist older adults or those living with chronic conditions with tasks that fall into two main categories:
• Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) — activities that allow an individual to live independently, such as cooking, cleaning, transportation, laundry, medication management, shopping and managing finances
• Activities of daily living (ADLs) — more fundamental skills that are required to
independently care for oneself, such as grooming, dressing, toileting, continence, eating, and transferring or ambulating
More precisely, 99 percent of family caregivers provide assistance with instrumental activities of daily living, while 60 percent help with at least one activity of daily living. All told, family caregivers spend an average of 23.7 hours each week caring for a loved one. And, if the person receiving care also lives with the caregiver, the hours spent each week increase to 37.4 — the equivalent of a full-time job.
What’s more, since 2015, the number of Americans providing care has increased by 7.6 million — demonstrating an increased need for support for caregivers, who often feel isolated and overwhelmed. These caregivers don’t know how or where to begin to get the help they need for themselves or the person receiving the care so that they can deal with all of the complexities involved.
I can relate to all of these feelings after having cared for my husband, Dave, who was diagnosed with the visual variant of Alzheimer’s at the age of 56. As I look back at the journals I kept at that time, I find myself reliving the concern, stress, exhaustion and confusion that I felt. Of course, there were also moments of connection and joy as I found new ways to relate to Dave. And, I do remember how thankful I felt when someone provided some recognition or helpful guidance.
So, I want to take this opportunity to recognize everyone who is lovingly partnering and caring for someone with a chronic condition. As director and founder of the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy, I see the amazing results every day that come from providing caregivers with support and encouragement. And, collectively, as community partners providing support services to our local caregivers, the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy, Heritage Agency on Aging, and Aging Services commend the selfless work of caregivers and recognize the vital role they play in providing necessary care to a population that is largely underserved.
“Family caregivers provide care, support and commitment to their loved ones — in good times and bad, at all times of the day and night,” said Barbara Werning, executive director of Heritage Agency on Aging. “Often, they quietly move through their days, caring, worrying and working to ensure their loved ones are given every opportunity to thrive. While they may often feel unnoticed, we — as a community and as professionals — are in awe of their efforts. To each and every family caregiver, we say thank you for caring for your loved one and thank you for making our community a better place. We appreciate you and thank you for all you do.”
“Caregivers are truly amazing individuals in our community,” said Lindsay Glynn, executive director of Aging Services. “They give selflessly to their loved ones with very little recognition for the tremendous work it takes to keep loved ones safe and healthy. Oftentimes, caregivers dedicate their lives day in and day out to focusing their time and energy on everyone but themselves. We are blessed to live in a world where spouses, parents, children and friends love one another this much. November is a month when we, as a community, can come together to appreciate the amazing things that caregivers accomplish through love, kindness and grace.”
Notably, the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy will celebrate its sixth anniversary in December. Since its inception, a major focus of the service provided is to meet with a caregiver one-on-one (or with a family), help the caregiver determine needs and then get them connected to resources that can help meet those needs. As part of this process, we often find that caregivers, especially, need emotional support. During the one-on-one meetings, staff and trained volunteers (99 percent of whom are or have been caregivers) provide that support. Caregivers also receive helpful information about the caregiving role, as well as the chronic condition of the person for whom they care. Granted, finding a trusted resource does not make caregiving easy. But, very often, it does makes it easier.
For more information, contact the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy at email@example.com or call (319) 221-8866.
Kathy Good is director of the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy and the DeWolf Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia.