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National Family Caregivers Month is celebrated every year in November. Created and promoted by the Caregiver Action Network, this is a month dedicated to providing support for, and raising awareness of, family caregivers, or individuals who care for relatives or loved ones living with chronic illness, disabilities, terminal illness, or aging issues. It is also for individuals who care for veterans living with illness or injury as a result of military service.
National observance begins with the sitting president issuing a proclamation regarding the mission and core values to be honored during the month. For example, in his 2016 proclamation for National Family Caregivers Month, President Barack Obama stated the following:
“Many devoted caregivers across our country also attend to members of our Armed Forces when they return home, and my Administration is committed to improving the care and support our veterans and their families receive.”
President Obama points out that First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative was created to “ensure those who look after our service members who come home with the wounds of war — whether they are visible or not — have the community and Government support they need.”
The Caregiver Action Network chooses a theme for the month, and provides materials to help promote observance and awareness. This includes the chosen theme, a media kit, posters, sample presidential proclamations from previous years, and other materials. In 2018, the theme chosen for the month was “Supercharge Your Caregiving!”
The media kit included example Facebook posts, Tweets, and hashtags to be used for promotion on social media, as well as a theme poster. The website is also filled with links family members can use to access information about self-care, caregiver training, and support.
Websites provide information about issues caregivers often face, and offer tips for caregivers and their loved ones. One website, the National PACE Association, gives a breakdown of what a typical day might look like for a family caregiver:
- Morning: The average family caregiver is a working mother of school-aged children. Mornings become a tricky balancing act of getting the kids ready for school, making sure your loved one has what they need for the day, and then getting yourself out the door for work.
- Throughout the Day: Up to 70% of the time, the family caregiver manages the medications. The more serious the condition, the more likely it is that the family caregiver manages the medications for the patient. This means ensuring their loved one is taking medication correctly and maintaining an up-to-date medication list.
- During the Workday: Six out of 10 family caregivers work full or part time in addition to juggling their caregiving responsibilities at home. Most say they have to cut back on working hours, take a leave of absence, or quit their job entirely.
- Evening: Evenings are for family time and mealtime. Nutrition is as important for caregivers as it is for their loved ones. Proper nutrition helps maintain strength, energy, stamina and a positive attitude.
- Late at Night: This might be the only time that family caregivers get a few minutes for themselves to rest and recharge. The chance to take a breather and re-energize is vital so they can be as good a caregiver tomorrow as they were today.
- Middle of the Night: If loved ones may need to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night on occasion, family caregivers should be prepared ahead of time with what they need to know and what they need to have with them.
Another website, National Today, offers self-care tips as a way for caregivers to observe the month:
- Attend a caregiving conference or workshop. Since it’s National Family Caregivers Month, do something to make an impact. Check with the National Alliance for Caregiving for the details but if you can’t get away to Washington, attend a workshop instead. The most important aspect is to know you are not alone.
- Download a caregiving toolkit. Download the Circle of Care Mental Health Toolkit. Sponsored by the National Alliance for Caregiving, the toolkit covers topics including taking care of yourself, getting an accurate diagnosis, communicating with health professionals, finding community services, finding providers, and more. The resources you need are just a click away.
- Take naps. One of the healthiest things you can do for yourself is to fit naps into your weekly schedule. Round-the-clock caregiving is never easy. But when your loved one takes a break, don’t do another task — you take a break too. It’s important not to wear yourself down or who will take care of you?
Help for Family Caregivers of Veterans
Some of the most common health conditions veterans face include Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, and cancers due to exposure to toxic chemicals. Consequently, family caregivers of veterans need access to the information and training that is necessary to provide good care to their veteran family members or loved ones.
National Family Caregiver month continues to help raise national awareness and recognition of the vital role family caregivers play in the lives of those living with aging or disability issues, as well as veterans living with illness or injury related to military service.