MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors, is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and brings together leaders from its agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. This column allows a MetroWest CARES agency to address a critical eldercare issue. This month’s column, on caregiving, is presented by the federation.
National Family Caregivers Month, celebrated in November, gives us an opportunity to thank the millions of individuals who provide countless hours of unpaid care to family, friends, and neighbors throughout the country. While each caregiving situation is unique, every caregiver can benefit from the support of family and community.
Unpaid caregivers are the backbone of our long-term health-care system, ensuring that those who are frail, ill, and disabled can remain in the community with the support they need. At some time in our lives, all of us need the help of others, and most of us will be called upon to care for a loved one. Family caregivers, living locally and out of town, coordinate doctors’ visits, manage financial matters, help with personal needs, provide emotional support, and advocate for their loved ones.
Being a caregiver can be one of the most challenging jobs a person will ever have. Caregivers are the quintessential jugglers and multi-taskers who provide, on average, 20 hours per week of care. They are under constant demand to meet the ongoing needs of loved ones while juggling their own lives, which can include a spouse, children, job, home, and other commitments.
At the same time, the sense of satisfaction that can come from caregiving is incomparable. Spouses and children often express appreciation at having the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones, getting to know them in a new, deeper way. They are grateful for the opportunity to give the gift of themselves, ensuring that their loved ones’ needs are met and wishes fulfilled.
In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness and understanding of the role family caregivers play in our society. This increased consciousness has helped individuals identify themselves as caregivers (as opposed to viewing themselves as “doing what needs to be done”) and has led to an abundance of resources. Programs and services designed specifically for family caregivers through social service agencies are becoming more common, and there is a plethora of on-line communities and websites devoted to this group. Caregiving coalitions provide opportunities for caregivers to meet others caring for loved ones as well as professionals who can provide support.
November is also National Home Care Month. This is a good time to remember the support and relief that professionals can offer to family caregivers. Our community, through partner agencies of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, boasts two home care programs that provide certified home health aides: Jewish Family Service of Central NJ’s Caregivers at Home and Jewish Vocational Service’s Caregiving Companions. Both are integrated into larger agencies that work to meet the needs of older adults and their families.
A professional caregiver can provide excellent care to a loved one while providing respite to the family caregiver. No one can take the place of a devoted spouse or child, but a paid caregiver can help with the “to do” list, be a set of helping hands, and take some of the stress off the family caregiver.
It is critical for all of us to appreciate the numerous contributions made by family caregivers and to take the time to acknowledge them. Take a minute to thank those you know in your family, at work, or in your community who are caring for a loved one. If you can, offer to help in some way — from picking up groceries, staying with the individual needing care while the caregiver goes out, or delivering a hot meal. You can also remind the caregiver to take advantage of the many available services and resources (see box).
Throughout November, ceremonies will be held and proclamations made lauding the tireless efforts of family caregivers. But when National Family Caregivers Month ends, the work of family caregivers will continue. It is imperative that during this month we all make a commitment to reach out to family caregivers to continue to support them when the fanfare subsides. Caregiving is a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year job — and supporting caregivers should be, too.