By Susan Baida
Every year for the last 13 years, November has been publicly recognized by our President as National Family Caregivers Month. For the 65 million people in the United States who play the role of caregiver to a family member or loved one, it is a chance to see the spotlight shine on many of the issues and hurdles they face every day.
For ten million of these caregivers (and an additional five million patients), it is a powerful synchronicity that November is also Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. With women leaders like Maria Shriver joining the Alzheimer’s Association and focusing global attention through, “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s,” there is an opportunity for care providing to gain a much stronger voice on the national stage.
As Ms. Shriver shares in her video introduction to the report, “Women are at the heart of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, and it’s time we start talking about it…. We want you to join us by discussing this issue at your kitchen table, in your community and with your legislators.”
Caregiving is not a new phenomenon by any means, however, the face of the caregiver and how care providers and families accommodate aging and illness is radically different now than in earlier generations. While women have always picked up the mantle of care provider, they are now care providers and income providers, and making the two roles coexist is no easy feat. Caregivers often face a veritable treadmill of responsibilities, moving at light speed from providing for their patients to caring for their children and households – and working full time. This can create an unimaginable strain on families that have do not have a family structure and community in place to support them. To complicate matters, caregiving can often go on for years or even decades.
Creating a national discussion on Alzheimers, aging and caregiving is a vitally important step in our society. As medical advances allow our population to live longer, we are compelled to create societal advances also – building legislative and community infrastructures that not only support our aging or critically ill – but that also support the care providers themselves. Having a national forum in place for an entire month, focused specifically on caregiving and dementia, is an opportunity to move these initiatives forward.
National Family Caregivers Month and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month have given birth to many resource fairs and conferences all around the country to help caregivers discover some of the resources, technology and support that is available, as well as providing them with a forum to talk about what is not available, but sorely needed in their lives. It’s easy to find (or help create) local events by reaching out to local aging facilities; another way to celebrate National Family Caregivers Month is to join
the NFCA. Membership is free to family caregivers, and everyone who joins during November will receive a free Family Caregiver Toolkit and Planner.
This is also an opportunity for all of us, as a nation, to publicly and privately take the time to thank the caregivers in our lives – to take a few moments and recognize those men and women on the forefront every day, helping patients and family members living with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and all of the challenges that our elderly face every single day.
A special note of thanks as I end this piece goes to my husband, John Mills. John was one of the one-in-six care providers who are men, and he courageously and kindly supported his father through the journey of aging. Thank you John for being a hero in our family and in our lives.
And thanks to ALL the heroes and heroines out there every day. As President Barack Obama said in his last address to the National Family Caregivers Association, “The true strength of the American family finds its roots in an unwavering commitment to care for one another.”