Have you ever been a family caregiver? If so, you know that the penultimate job description has yet to be written. In a 24 hour period you may fill the roles of sitter, companion, cook, cleaner, nurse’s aide, nurse, doctor, driver, spiritual advisor and more. Each care-giving experience is unique, dynamic and an emotional mine field. A caregiver will share that his job is rewarding and in the next breath talk about resentment and then guilt. This roller coaster of life experiences is a hands in the air, eyes wide open/eyes squeezed shut kind of ride on a track that ends somewhere and sometime that is out of sight.
In the United States, family caregiver statistics are sobering. 43.5 million Americans are caring for someone in their family. The average caregiver is 49 years old, cares for her loved one an average of 4 years for about 25 hours per week. One caregiver in ten is over the age of 75. 60% of caregivers are female. These statistics are referenced from The National Alliance for Caregiving’s (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute’s research report Caregiving in the U.S. 2015.
If you are a caregiver, if you can find one hour once a month, use that hour to visit a caregivers support group in your local community. For example, if your loved one has Alzheimer’s or other dementia, Google Alzheimer’s NC or the Alzheimer’s Association for a list of groups and facilitators. If your loved one has Parkinson’s Disease, contact your local PD foundation or association, etc.
Support group members quickly become your confidantes, your friends, your brothers and sisters minus the family tree. If you feel like talking, they will listen. If you cry, they will pass you a tissue. If you want to sit quietly with your coffee and listen, they will talk to you about their days and nights, their struggles, and the treasured moments of light-heartedness that get them through another day. You will say “me too” out loud or to yourself. Support group members will share their “in the trenches, won’t find this tip in a book” advice that might make a huge positive change in your and your loved one’s days. You will laugh together when you thought that laughter was no longer an option for you.
A caregivers support group can be a bright spot when too many days have been gray. Facilitators offer a safe space, hugs, advice, resource recommendations, a cup of coffee and a brief respite.