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It’s National Family Caregivers Month. Are You a Caregiver?

Alexandra Williams, MA

Prepare to Care for caregivers bookletIt’s National Family Caregivers Month. As I’m a caregiver, I jumped at the chance to partner with Midlife Boulevard to bring you this important public service information about it (say that to yourself in a Walter Cronkite voice).

 

If you’re like most people, your mental image of a caregiver is of middle-aged women taking care of elderly parents. For me, only half of that is true. I’m middle-aged (or early Renaissance; medieval if you’re one of my boys). But I’m not caring for my parents; I’m now caring for someone who is only 57 and had a stroke in late September.

Without going into a pity party about what that means, especially when it’s completely unexpected, and therefore not planned for, I’ll just say that dealing with it has been made easier because I’ve accepted help.

It’s against my nature to ask for help. I’ve spent over 30 years in the health and fitness industry, helping others. I got an advanced degree in systemic counseling so I could help others. It’s more comfortable for me to give help than to receive it. Which probably makes me just like everybody else. Yet don’t we all immediately rush to help whenever someone we care about needs it? Heck, most of us rush to help complete strangers, and we don’t care about them. Until we do. Because we share the human trait of compassion.

According to AARP, more than 42 million U.S. caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion worth of unpaid care to relatives and friends. That’s a lot of compassion. Speaking from experience, I know this can be highly stressful. AARP reports that caregivers are also at higher risk for immunosuppression, cardiovascular disease, premature aging, and to top it off, financial problems. I know that after the initial stress and chaos of the stroke, I ended up with bronchitis. The financial problems are real too, even with supplemental disability insurance and full medical coverage.

But knowledge is power, and feeling more powerful and in control helps decrease stress (at least for me). And the extra support AARP offers through its community of experts and other caregivers at aarp.org/caregiving makes some of the chores easier. The detective work involved in figuring everything out was a depressing surprise, and I know that my sister will soon have this same issue with our mom. Trying to sort out paperwork when the only person who has the answers isn’t in a state to do so is crazy-making. Spending hours and hours on the phone and buried in paperwork, knowing that there should have been an easier way is exhausting.

AARP - Juggling Work and Caregiving booklet

That’s why I’m fully on board about the public service ads (PSAs) that AARP and the Ad Council have just launched that illustrate how the changing roles of parents and children can impact your life. I’m not caring for a parent, yet I have found these resources to be helpful, and recommend them to you:

Prepare to Care (Caregiving Planning Guide for Families)
12 Resources Every Caregiver Should Know About
Free eBook: Juggling Work and Caregiving
10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays

As November is National Family Caregivers Month, why not help celebrate the more than 42 million people who are providing care? By “celebrate” I mean offer rides, provide respite care, bring a meal, do household chores, ask after both the person being cared for AND the caregiver, and understand when the caregiver is a bit grumpy or distracted or doesn’t send a quick thank-you note. And take advantage of these resources, because with demographics being what they are, you’ll probably be a caregiver one day too.

Special PSA from us: Walk. Move. Dance. Strength Train, Golf. Garden. Bicycle. Swim. Exercise keeps both your body and brain sharp and strong. If you don’t want someone else to have to care for you, then take care of yourself.