Supporting Caregivers Is Everybody’s Job
November is National Family Caregivers Month. In the U.S., more people than ever before are providing care support for older relatives and friends. They are helping loved ones manage their health care and medications, assisting with the activities of daily living, making sure their loved ones are safe at home, or serving as an important member of their loved one’s care team at their senior living community. Caregivers help with legal and financial issues and keeping their loved ones socially connected.
Sounds like a full-time job, doesn’t it? Well, many caregivers are also working full-time and taking care of their own children—a recipe for stress and overload. Their own healthcare often falls through the cracks.
How can we help? Here’s what you can do if you are a …
Family member. So often, as the care needs of a senior change, one family member ends up doing the lion’s share of care. If this person asks you to have a conversation about sharing the load, do it! If they don’t ask, you be the one to suggest a family meeting. Family members who can’t be there can call in or join on a video conference. Make a list of things that need doing, and parcel it out. Most family members are happy to pitch in—they just don’t know what to do. Have the caregiver share information about all their tasks and how much money they spend. Create a realistic plan, and put it in writing.
Friend. Sadly, when seniors are living with health challenges, friends often drift away. Often it’s because they are unsure of how to interact with their friend, especially if they are dealing with dementia. And caregivers, too, can become isolated. Friends who once shared their relatively carefree lives may not know how to relate to their friend when caregiving becomes their “new normal.” Overcome this hesitance. Get your friend on the calendar. Ask how you can help. Offer to stay with the person who needs care while the caregiver goes shopping or just takes some “me time.” This holiday season, when you’re looking for a way to give back, put your friend at the top of the list!
Employer. Today, more employees than ever are also providing care for an elderly or disabled loved one. If you are an employer, consider that supporting these workers isn’t only good for them—it also helps you by allowing them to be more productive. Consider offering flextime and work-from-home options, and putting a caregiver referral and assistance program into place. Creating an understanding atmosphere will reduce employee stress, and is a great way to create loyalty.
Community member. Supporting caregivers is something everyone can—and should—do! Many people who are firmly committed to the idea of having a safety net for vulnerable older adults are unaware of how integral family caregivers are to meeting that goal. Addressing their needs is good for everyone! For example, a September 2019 AARP study found that businesses can lure many more customers into their brick and mortar stores by creating a better shopping experience for seniors and caregivers. Dedicated parking spots, comfortable senior-friendly seating and wider aisles for wheelchairs all help. “Retailers can score big with caregivers if they make it easier for them to bring their loved ones along when they shop,” said AARP’s Nancy LeaMond.
Caregiver. There are steps caregivers can take to better manage their busy lives. Learn all you can about your loved one’s condition, and find out about resources in the community to help you and your loved one. Many families have brought in the services of an aging life care professional (geriatric care manager) to help with practical and emotional issues. Look into home care or an assisted living community. Join a support group where you can safely share your emotional challenges. Above all, remember that asking for help is one of the most important ways you can be a better caregiver!