Honoring caregivers

Nearly a third of the people in the U.S. are taking care of sick or aging loved ones

November is National Family Caregivers Month.

It’s a time to honor the tireless work caregivers do every day — and to celebrate the personal rewards made possible by this special service to others.

I work with caregivers professionally, and I’m a caregiver in my personal life, so I know the many of the challenges — as well as the joys — of caregiving.

Becoming a caregiver creates a special relationship and a unique experience the caregiver wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Being a caregiver isn’t something everyone can do or wants to do. And yet, there are a great many of us: Caregivers have become their own census classification, totaling an estimated 65 million people.

That’s 29 percent of the U.S. population — all providing care at some time during the year for family members or friends who are chronically ill, disabled or aged.

A big life change

When a person becomes a caregiver, it usually means that the former relationship with the care receiver is somewhat altered. Children can suddenly become responsible for their parents in a way they never were before. Relationships between spouses can change dramatically, when one person needs a lot of care or has memory loss.

All of the extra time and effort required to be a caregiver can put a strain on the caregiver’s relationships, job and physical or mental health.

While many care receivers are grateful for all the assistance, some can become demanding and unappreciative or show a lack insight regarding these labors of love.

This can be common among people with memory loss.

Whatever your situation, it’s important to remember: You’re important. All of your emotions, whether good or bad, about caregiving are not only valid but also worth addressing.

Finding help, resources

Fortunately, many organizations can help caregivers in a variety of areas, including education, information and referral, consultation or coaching, respite care and support groups.

Each caregiving situation is different.

Working with a caregiver support program can be helpful because such programs offer personalized caregiver assessments to helps caregivers figure out what will best meet the caregiver’s needs as well as the care receiver’s.

To find services in your community, call the Minnesota Senior LinkAge Line at 800-333-2433 or visit MinnesotaHelp.info: Click on Seniors and then choose Caregivers under Helpful Links.

Self-care and stress

Because caregiving can be a full-time job, we often find that caregivers stop really taking care of themselves.

Statistics show that caregivers often show increased stress and decreased health.

Unfortunately, it’s a lose-lose situation: If caregivers don’t take care of themselves, they can eventually become less able to give good care.

So it’s important for caregivers to practice self-care on a daily basis, always remembering to manage stress and make sure to incorporate some time for fun.

That means asking for help from others, even though that can be incredibly hard to do.

I don’t want to imply that caregiving is all challenges and stress.

There also are many rewards and positive aspects to being a caregiver. I believe it’s an honor to care for a loved one — and that it gives a person a unique chance to serve: Caregivers are givers. They learn to be kinder and less selfish in a society that’s often so focused on personal gain.

Thanks to caregivers in Minnesota, thousands of people are able to remain safely at home in their communities, where they would prefer to be.

In addition, caregivers save taxpayers millions of dollars each year by delaying nursing home placements.

If you know a caregiver, please thank him or her.

And if you are one, please give yourself a pat on the back!

Dorothea Harris is the program manager for Caregiver Support Services at the Volunteers of America-Minnesota. Learn more about National Family Caregivers Month at caregiveraction.org