Since at least 2000, presidents have designated November as National Family Caregivers Month to honor the more than 40 million caregivers across the country who support aging parents, ill spouses or other loved ones with disabilities who remain at home.
Adults of all ages are among the ranks of family caregivers, according to a 2015 study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. More than a third of caregivers were ages 50 to 64, about a quarter were 35 to 49, and another quarter were 18- to 34-year-olds.
Perhaps most surprising as America’s population ages: 7 percent of family caregivers were age 75 or older, a share that has gone up steadily in the past two decades. Often the recipient is a spouse with dementia or heart disease who needs a high level of care for 34 hours or more a week, and the caregiver has been providing that help for more than five years.
“These everyday heroes, living quietly among us in families and communities across the country, are the major source of long-term care in America,” President Bill Clinton said in his 2000 proclamation of National Family Caregivers Month. “By providing billions of dollars’ worth of caregiving services each year, they dramatically reduce the demands on our Nation’s health care system and make an extraordinary contribution to the quality of life of their loved ones.”
The benefit to society also can be an individual burden, borne silently.
Although a majority of caregivers told AARP researchers in 2019 that they had a friend or relative available to confide in and have contact with socially, almost 1 in 10 said they had no one to talk to about private matters and 1 in 5 said they had no one to call for help.
Most family caregivers must juggle their home lives with working a paid job and meeting the needs of the relatives or friends in their care. More than 60 percent of the caregivers surveyed in 2019 were working and about the same percentage were married.
Almost half of family caregivers are adult children caring for their parents. About 1 in 5 are wives or husbands caring for their spouses.
The nonprofit National Family Caregivers Association has said it began in 1994 to promote the idea of a month to recognize what used to be called “informal” caregivers to raise awareness about their value, both psychological and monetary. For more information visit www.caregiver.org.
10 Tips for Family Caregivers
6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!
A Gift Guide for the Caregivers in Your Life
• Aromatherapy diffuser and lavender essential oil. Some people find lavender effective as a sleep aid. I like the ultrasonic diffusers that use water to diffuse the oil into the air. Make sure a diffuser can be used safely (with a wide, stable base that won’t topple over easily), has the option to run without bright lights and can run continuous mist all night (eight to 10 hours).
• A hot bath. Make a package of bath salts, oils and lotions with a note encouraging the caregiver to take a relaxing bath before bed.
• Sound machine, apps, CDs or MP3 recordings. White noise or nature sounds can help calm the mind or drown out distracting noises. Meditation and self-hypnosis apps and CDs can also be calming.
• Alarm and notification gadgets. It’s important for us to feel confident that even if we sleep soundly, we will wake up if needed. Useful products include floor-mat alarms, bed- or chair-pad alarms, motion-sensor alarms, door alarms, audio monitors and video camera monitors.
2. A Break
• Healthy and tasty meal delivery services. Some optionsdeliver all the ingredients for a meal with cooking instructions.
• Paid care. It’s best to let the caregivers in your life choose their own paid care providers, but you might pay the bill — even for just a few hours.
• Your time as a caregiving assistant or researcher. Offer to take care of loved ones for a period of time or, if you’re not comfortable providing care by yourself, offer to come by and assist. It can be a huge help to have an extra pair of hands. At a distance? Offer to research health conditions and treatments, find the best price for caregiving supplies, shop online for clothing or order groceries to be delivered. You could also do some research to find free or affordable ongoing respite care or adult day care by contacting the local area agency on aging.
• Fun motivation. Make a gift of a spa day, massage, mani-pedi, movie or theater tickets, garden tour, wine-and-paint date or round of golf — whatever the caregivers in your life enjoy. If they have tickets, a gift certificate or a date to look forward to, they might actually make the time to follow through. (It’s nice to also help arrange respite care.)
3. Comfort and Joy
• Treats of the month clubs. From snacks or cookies to meat and cheese to wine, it’s always a lift to get something yummy in the mail.
• Coffee shop gift card. I can attest that sometimes the most warm and fuzzy, positive experience in my day is simply getting a good cup of coffee or tea.
• Cheerful flowers. Flower delivery makes us all feel special.
• Cards of encouragement. Send caregivers a greeting card every week or month that expresses your admiration, appreciation and faith in them.
• A funny book or movie. Laughter is good for the body and soul.
• Your companionship. It may sound sappy, but having someone to vent to, brainstorm with and hug us when we are tired or sad is worth a million bucks.