November is National Family Caregiver Month. Every President since President Clinton has made a proclamation to recognize the caregivers in our country before we sit down to eat turkey and pie on Thanksgiving. So what does a national month name dedication mean? Well, unfortunately it does not mean we will start to pay the 43 million unpaid caregivers in this country that provide more than 430 billion dollars’ worth of unpaid care according to a National Family Caregiver Alliance which cited a study of caregivers from 2015 by AARP. This amount of unpaid care surpasses the cost of homecare and all Medicaid spending. So the proclamation of November as National Family Caregiver month cannot be about financial support but that does not mean it is not important.
To understand why the recognition of a month dedicated to family caregivers is important, understanding first who caregivers are is needed. According AARP, daughters/daughter in-laws followed by wives caring for their spouses still take on the greatest amount of caregiving in the United States. Husbands and sons are, however, providing more care than they have in the past. Additionally caregivers can also include grandparents/kinship caregivers raising their grandchildren or parents raising their adult children with special needs. Caregivers also include neighbors, friends, brothers, sister, nieces and nephews who have decided to be the one who helps their loved one out.
Caregivers are the daughters who are waiting in hospital emergency room at 2:00 am after their mother has fallen, they are the sons who are trying to help their father pay the bills. Caregivers are the spouses who are providing 24 hour care without a break only to have their loved one not remember their name. Caregivers are the grandparents who are trying to buy school supplies for their grandchild while on a fixed salary or the daughters who work full time only to rush to their parents after work to bring dinner before they head home to their own family.
Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, who is married to Jimmy Carter and founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving is famously quoted as saying;
“There four kinds of people in this world, those who were caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will become caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
Let’s add a fifth kind of person, Those Who Help a Caregiver. If you are not a caregiver and want to help someone in your life who is a caregiver, they need you. Can you shovel their snow? Can you bring them a cup of coffee or invite them out for one? How about offering respite even in small doses like an hour or two on a Saturday so they can take a walk or a nap. If you cannot provide respite can you help pay for professional help from an agency? How about bringing them dinner or invite them to your home for a meal.