In 2013 President Obama declared November National Family Caregiver Month, stating “Across our country, more than 60 million Americans take up the selfless and unheralded work of delivering care to seniors or people with disabilities or illnesses. The role they play in our healthcare system is one we must recognize and support.” He went on to say that we must thank “these tireless heroes for the long, challenging work they perform behind closed doors and without fanfare every day, and we recommit to ensuring the well-being of their loved ones and of the caregivers themselves.”
Family Caregivers make sacrifices that those who are not in their position fail to understand. While it may be in the nature of some individuals to be nurturing and even work in “helping” professions like doctors, nurses, social workers, etc, most of them never planned to be thrust into the role of family caregiver. Moreover, parents who are raising children with a chronic illness or disability certainly feel that their lives have encountered quite a detour. This wasn’t what they’d signed up for.
November is National Family Caregiver Month not only to recognize and honor the family members who have become caregivers to loved ones, but also to remind them and us all of the need for those caregivers to seek and take care for themselves.
It’s so easy for me to make sure everyone else’s needs are met before I even think to take a stab at my own. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to my own chronic stress and illness- and what good can I be to my family if I’m not in good shape myself?! This is a very hard lesson for me and I continue to work on it.
The Caregiver Action Network has a list of 10 Tips For Family Caregivers. Here are a few:
1. Seek support. You can’t do it all alone!
2. Take care of your own health so you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
3. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
4. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
I’m often reminded of the airplane instructions to put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. Sometimes that’s just so hard to remember in the moment and in the seemingly mundane day-to-day. But, it’s so important. Of course, I’d be remiss to not mention that one of the reasons we created Birdhouse for Autism was to provide a kind of respite for me. It gave me a chance to keep everything in one place- all the notes about my daughter’s behaviors, sleep, poop, and of course the medications and supplements we had been trying. Just knowing the information is safe and stored somewhere- other than my exhausted brain- helps give me some peace of mind.
In honor of National Family Caregiver Month, I’m committing to doing something- just one thing- to take better care of myself. So, I’ve been going to the gym. Getting in some exercise gives me that chance to be alone, do something for myself, and sweat out some stress and anxiety.
What will YOU do for YOURSELF this month?
For more information and resources:
Caregiver Alliance Network
The Caregiver Space
Dani Gillman is Cofounder and Head of Marketing at Birdhouse– a Detroit-based startup empowering parents raising children with special needs to learn more about their children through a behavior journaling app for iPhone, Android and the web. She’s also mom to a 10 year old daughter (who happens to have Autism) and a 1 year old son (who has yet to appreciate the value of naps).