Showing Appreciation for Family Caregivers

If you're going home for the holidays, don't forget another important autumn recognition date: National Family Caregivers Month.

Woman in a wheelchair with her caregiver husband

As families get together for the holidays, everyone does plenty of catching up. Who does Sarah's new baby look like? How was Stan and Janie's Alaska cruise? Does Charlie like his new job?

This also is the time when families catch up with senior loved ones who are living with health challenges. Geriatric care managers and home care experts report a surge of phone calls around the holidays, as families visiting from afar realize an elderly loved one is having trouble staying safe and healthy at home. This in-person look at the situation is the moment they realize that their loved one needs help!

But during those visits, it's also important to note how family caregivers are doing. It often happens that a spouse or a single adult child ends up serving as chief caregiver, gradually taking on more responsibility as a senior's needs change. Sometimes, before anyone notices what's happening, the senior's care needs increase so much that the well-being of the caregiving family member suffers. Yet visiting family can be so focused on the senior's health and living issues that they fail to check in on the well-being of the relative who is providing care.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a great time to honor and support the 65 million Americans who provide care for elderly and disabled loved ones. This unpaid care has been valued in the billions of dollars. But these people, so vital to our nation's senior care system and to their loved one, often put their own physical, emotional and financial well-being at risk. They may neglect their own healthcare and wellness routine. They may cut back on their hours at work or leave their job entirely. They are at higher risk of depression and other stress-related conditions.

Here are seven great ways to express your thanks and gratitude to the caregivers in your family:

1. Tell them in words. We might think that of course family caregivers know we appreciate what they do. Yet these caring individuals often report feeling isolated and undervalued. They can't read our minds! Take time for a conversation or to write a letter expressing your appreciation of the important role they play. This can sometimes be emotionally challenging if we feel a sense of guilt that we aren't doing as much for our loved one as we would like, or think we should. Do it anyway! But don't stop with words.

2. Listen. Caregiving can create a sense of isolation. Ask how the caregiver is doing. Check in regularly. Create a safe space for the caregiver to express their thoughts about their role and their concern for the person receiving care. Caregiving is a mixed bag, with joys and frustrations. Maybe you are a person with whom the caregiver feels safe expressing some of those mixed emotions.

3. Ask how you can help. Most caregivers have a wish list when it comes to balancing their caregiving duties with their work, family and personal responsibilities—but it can be hard for them to ask for help. The need for respite is usually high on the list. If you live nearby, offer to take a regular shift with your loved one. If you live at a distance, visit more often. If your loved one can travel, arrange for visits at your place.

4. Enlist everyone. A holiday visit when the whole family is together can be a good time to have a family meeting. Encourage the caregiver to share information about your loved one's needs. Brainstorm solutions to spread out the caregiving load. If possible, have the person who is receiving care at the meeting as well. Remember that the primary caregiver has the most information—don't be one of those long-distance caregivers who swoops in and criticizes!

5. Bring in a professional. If the family conversation isn't going well, or family members are stumped about what to do, it's worth it to bring in outside help. A counselor can facilitate the discussion. Geriatric care managers also can help family discussions be more productive, and they can perform an assessment of an elder's needs and make recommendations.

6. Arrange for support services. If family members have the time and ability to help out with care tasks, home maintenance, transportation, yard work and whatever else needs doing, set up a schedule. If family can't do it all, help the caregiver locate professional services such as housekeeping, yard care and meal delivery. Arrange for home modifications, such as an accessible bathroom and wheelchair ramp if needed.

7. Hire in-home care. Arranging for home care services can be the very best way to lighten the caregiver's workload and stress level, while providing peace of mind for everyone in the family. Families who share the cost of these services often find that in-home care is an affordable solution—even an economic advantage if it allows caregivers to continue in their own careers. In-home caregivers provide personal care and grooming, companionship, housekeeping and laundry, nutrition support, medication reminders and many other practical tasks. The last thing your caregiver relative needs is to take on an HR role, so look for a reputable agency that handles hiring, background checks, training, taxes, liability insurance and other employer duties.

Planning for and providing care for an elderly loved one takes a lot of communication skills—a daunting task for many of us! Find some great tips and tools in the RightConversationsSM resource, free to download on the Right at Home website.

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Caregivers often are so busy that hosting a holiday gathering seems overwhelming. Read “Ten Tips for a More Meaningful, Healthy Thanksgiving” in this issue of Caring Right at Home to find some great ideas.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.