Some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet are the 55 million family caregivers across America. Family caregivers are the people who feed, bathe, dress, and administer medications to loved ones with all types of physical and mental impairments. These family caregivers are unpaid, but their financial impact is significant. Without them, many people with physical and mental impairments would be living in nursing homes and putting more financial strain on Medicare and state Medicaid programs. People with disabilities both receive care and at times are caregivers. November is a time to both recognize caregivers and bring awareness to the service they provide.

Family caregivers often provide care out of a sense of love and devotion. Keeping a loved one with a physical or mental disability living in the comfort of a family home is a big advantage. Also, having a loved one at home can save money, since private care services and assisted living facilities are not covered by insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. If the person requiring care needs 24-hour supervision or assistance due to a disability, there are very few options for most families. Many family members or friends that provide care sometimes give up work outside the home which can cause a financial burden. Caregivers can become isolated from outside social activities. This isolation can lead to depression and anxiety. Sacrifices are made by caregivers, but the rewards can be immeasurable. The bonds that happen between family members when care is being provided are some of the most emotionally important moments in a person’s life.

My mother and I provided care for my grandfather for two years before he passed away. We also were able to hire caregivers for him so he could remain in his home for as long as possible. My mother and the people we hired provided physical assistance for bathing, toileting, and dressing. I was able to help with occasionally getting his meals, retrieving items for him, and memory exercises. I spent hours of quality time with him. We looked at pictures and laughed about all of the beautiful memories we shared since I was a child. My grandfather enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed. My grandmother’s mother drove her from New Orleans to the naval base in Oklahoma when she was 17 years old and my great-grandmother signed the papers so my grandparents could get married. I am now able to pass these stories on to my children, which is important to me. The time that I spent with my grandfather, learning about my family history is a treasure money can’t buy. Caregivers receive rewards that are much more valuable than money.

I am a caregiver to my children and my mother and I know many people who live with a disability, visible or invisible, that provide care for others. As a caregiver with a disability, I find it easier when you focus on what you can do for others, rather than what you are unable to do. The list of the things that I can do to make the life of a loved one easier is long and brings me joy.
Pros of Caregiving
  1. Gives a sense of purpose
  2. Strengthens the bonds between generations of families
  3. Learning about people in a meaningful way
  4. Understanding relationships are much more important in life than money.
Cons of Caregiving
  1. Higher risk of depression and anxiety
  2. Deteriorating Physical health
  3. Financial Hardships
  4. The strain on other significant relationships
How Caregivers can take care of themselves
People who provide physical and emotional care for others must remember to take care of themselves. It is easy for caregivers to put their needs last. We hear this all of the time, but putting yourself last is easy to do and we need to be reminded frequently to take care of yourself when you are the caregiver. Here is a list of reminders that will keep caregivers healthy for the long run. 
  1. Sleep when the person you are caring for is sleeping! One of the best things you can do for your health is to get adequate rest. Sleep deprivation can cause heart disease, kidney problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Also, people who don't get enough sleep are involved in more car accidents and are less productive at work and at home. You could be putting the person you are caring for as well as yourself in danger if you don't get rest. To read more about the dangers of sleep deprivation click here.
  2. Create a strong support system. Caregiving can be emotionally draining, therefore having people in your life to recharge you is important. Just like you schedule work activities and set weekly work goals, you should schedule time with people who energize you. Finding friends and family who will listen to you and are willing to help you when you need extra support. Find a caregiver’s support group in your area. If you can’t find an in-person group near you go to the Caregiver Action Network website has a Care Community with different forums where you can ask for advice and read the responses. There are many private groups for caregivers on Facebook.
  3. Plan activities for yourself outside the home. It can be a small as a walk in the neighborhood, a meal at a local restaurant, or a weekend get-a-way. Putting events on your calendar to look forward to will break up the monotony of any daily grind. Here is the link to a great article in Self Magazine that gives lots of good ideas on creating events that will help you to prevent depression and anxiety. 
  4. Schedule your workouts on the calendar like your life depends on it! When you are the caregiver for another person, it's easy to put their needs before yours. Once you have taken care of all of their needs and get other household chores, shopping and cooking completed you will have very little energy left to fit in a workout. If you schedule a workout early in the morning you are more likely to get it done. For those of you who hate the mornings, do it in the evenings, but schedule it! Put it in your calendar with the actual dates and times you promise yourself you will exercise. There are many times that I feel too tired to work out, but I feel energized when I'm finished. 
November, National Family Caregiver Awareness Month, is when we take time to thank the people who selflessly care for people who are unable to care for themselves. If you know someone who is a caregiver, this is a good time to offer your support to them. Offer to give them a day off by stepping in for them or hiring someone to take their place for a few days. Offer to cook a meal for the caregiver or buy them a gift card for a professional massage. Caregivers make the world a better place, so make sure you take time this month to say thank you! If you would like more caregiver information and support go to
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