Each November, we recognize family caregivers for all they do to ensure the health, safety, and dignity of the people they care for. Family caregivers are the social and economic underpinning of America's long-term care system. Without them, the burden of providing care likely would fall upon the formal, more costly healthcare delivery system, and many people who otherwise could remain in their homes and communities would have to live in institutional settings. Supporting caregivers is critical—and a key part of ACL's mission.
We know that caregiving can take a toll, and it is important that caregivers receive support to help them continue providing care while maintaining their own well-being. Created in 2000, the National Family Caregiver Support Program is central to ACL’s efforts to support families caring for of older people and people with dementia, as well as grandparents raising grandchildren and other people caring for relatives’ children. The program offers a variety of services, including respite care, information about available services and assistance in accessing them, individual counseling, organization of support groups, and caregiver training. With funding from this program, states and communities can effectively target and meet diverse caregiver support needs.
Respite—taking a break, recharging batteries, a little time away—is the cornerstone of this support. It is essential to maintaining caregivers’ physical and emotional health, as well as that of their loved one.
Sometimes that means short-term help, as in the case of Eric and his wife Jodi. They have been caring for Eric’s 91-year-old mother, Darlene, for nearly five years. Darlene cannot be left alone, so when Eric’s daughter scheduled her wedding, Eric wasn’t sure he could attend. With the help of their local Caregiver Support Program Coordinator, the family welcomed temporary help to stay with Darlene so the other family members could attend the wedding. “The father-daughter dance was the most amazing and emotional experience of my life,” Eric recalls.
In other cases, a more regular schedule of support makes sense. Michael’s wife, Patty, has Pick's Disease and can no longer care for herself. She is immobile and cannot speak, feed or bathe herself. Michael cares for Patty faithfully, and because his life is centered on her needs, his own take second place. Through a local caregiver support program, Michael receives nine hours—three hours, three days a week—of respite care. It is precious time, enough to allow Michael the space to make himself a priority, recharge, and go back to Patty ready to give her all the support she requires.
This year’s Presidential Proclamation reminds us how important it is that family caregivers have support. When they ensure their own well-being, caregivers are better able to help the people they love. Right now, 18 percent of caregivers are assisting two or more adults. About half of all caregivers are over age 50, which by itself makes them more vulnerable to health issues. What’s more, 17% of caregivers describe their health as fair or poor, and the toll on the caregiver’s health appears to increase over time and with higher caregiving hours.
This November, acknowledge and thank the caregivers in your family or community, but also make them aware of the support networks available. The National Family Caregiver Support Program is always there—ready to help, ready to guide. During National Family Caregivers Month, or any other time—please reach out!
- Local services for caregivers:
Eldercare Locator (from ACL’s Administration on Aging)
- Nationwide respite services:
ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center