Family caregivers are the unsung heroes of the healthcare system. Studies show that about 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid, “informal” care each year for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses or conditions that prevent them from handling daily activities such as bathing, managing medications or preparing meals on their own.

National Family Caregivers Month. Realistic Plum ribbon symbol. Medical Design. Vector illustration.

Family caregivers, particularly women, provide over 75% of caregiving support in the United States. The estimated economic value of family caregivers’ unpaid contributions was at least $375 billion, which is how much it would cost to replace that care with paid services.

The month of November is a time to recognize, support, and empower family caregivers. The theme for National Family Caregivers Month 2019 is “Caregiving Around the Clock.” All members of the healthcare team have met and worked with caregivers as they helped their patient’s transition across the healthcare continuum. But have you ever really stopped to think of how hard their lives are or will be as they take their loved one home? Today, people are going home from hospitals much sicker and with more needs. As a result, caregivers are responsible for more things that most are not prepared. They carry a tremendous burden and need support and assistance so they are prepared for their journey.

Taking time to talk to caregivers and prepare them for their journey is something we all need to do better. Here are some tips that you can use to help to educate family caregivers:

  • Encourage family caregivers to seek support from others. Let them know they are not alone and it is ok to let others help them.
  • Talk to them and let them know that is important for them to take care of themselves. They need to be able to take time to each well, get enough sleep, and have outlets from their stress. They need to take care of themselves so they can take care of their loved ones.
  • Suggest they make a list that family members and neighbors who they can depend on for support. People want to help, but many times they don’t know what they can so, Here are some examples that caregivers can delegate to those who they can depend on: walking the dog, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, food shopping, watching their children so they can spend some alone with the patient, making meals, sitting with the patient so they can take an hour to get their hair done or just take a walk to regroup.
  • Help them to learn how to communicate effectively with doctors/nurses and other members of the healthcare team including payers. Let them know they should not be afraid to ask any question or to explain something they don’t understand. If they are having billing issues, recommend they call their insurance company for advice and direction. Remind them to keep notes and who they talked to as many times they have so much going on, but get confused. Notes will help them remember.
  • Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  • Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when needed. There are some support groups that are available to help people. Some are onsite and some are online. Do some research so that you can make recommendations.
  • Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often. Let the caregiver know they can take a break. Sometimes they need to hear that it is ok to leave for a short period of time to something for themselves.
  • Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find. Download Campaign Zero’s Hospital Checklist. This will help you learn about things you can do to prevent medical errors when a loved one is in a hospital. https://www.campaignzero.org/patient-safety-checklist-booklet/
  • Make sure legal documents are in order. A simple way to start is by looking at the tools offered by Five Wishes. https://fivewishes.org
  • Give yourself credit for being a caregiver!

I recorded a Vlog a few weeks ago titled: Being Your Own Best Advocate. Click here to listen to the presentation. If you think it is worthwhile, feel free to share it with others. 

I hope this information is useful if you are a caregiver or know someone who is please feel free to share this post.

Thanks for reading! Have a good week.

 

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