Who comes to mind when you think of a caregiver? Perhaps you imagine a nurse or doctor, treating an elderly patient at an assisted living facility, or maybe you think of a family member dedicating countless hours to helping their child with special needs.
Caregiving is a broad term that encompasses both paid professionals (such as doctors and nurses) as well as informal, or unpaid individual caretakers. Their responsibilities range from attending doctor’s appointments, administering medication, managing financial and legal affairs, providing emotional support, and much more.
In 2015, an estimated 43.5 million Americans reported providing unpaid care to a child or an adult in the last 12 months. These unpaid caregivers generated almost $470 billion of economic value (that’s nearly equivalent to Walmart’s total annual sales!). During the pandemic, the demand for caregiving soared alongside the stressors and threat of Covid-19 . Given the tremendous impact of caregivers, chances are that you or a loved one has either provided or received care at some point.
The Importance of Caregivers
Caregivers are invaluable. They devote their time, energy, and resources to care for individuals who otherwise might be left behind. While some are caregivers by vocation, others expect little in return for their services and may even put their own dreams on hold to provide support to a neighbor or loved one. That’s why we launched our Connection Communities for Caregivers last year, a no-cost online forum that allows you to connect with others who have either been there or are in the process of providing care to family member, loved one, or patient.
Today, there are more than 4,000 members in our virtual Caregiving community. We have been so inspired to learn about your stories and see the outpour of support from those that have been caregivers themselves. Many caregivers in our community, like Anna, began taking care of one or both of their parents as teenagers. Others, like Carrie and Bob, have shared resources for tracking important legal/medical documents and started weekly support groups.
Joe expresses how thankful he is to have found the Caregiving Connection Community. He quit his job to begin caring for her elderly father nearly 4 years ago, who suffers from memory loss. Talking with others who have been or are going through similar situations gives Joe validation that he is doing his best and that he is not alone.
Caring for the Caregivers
We spoke to our Connectivity Council member Dr. Chloe Carmichael on the challenges caregivers may face, signs that they are feeling overwhelmed, and how we can be more supportive of caregivers. Caregivers, by nature, tend to be very receptive of other’s needs. However, they might also find themselves being so attuned to the person under their care that they forget about their own needs. Sometimes, they may get caught in black-and-white thinking, believing their needs to be in direct competition with the person under their care.
Dr. Carmichael recommends setting clear boundaries and being open about needs. For example, a caregiver might ask the person under their care to avoid scheduling doctor’s appointments at certain times of the day depending on work and family schedules.
We should look out for caregivers who are feeling resentful, lethargic, irritable, or depressed. Dr. Carmichael recommends doing a daily debrief with caregivers, recognizing two challenges and two positive moments of the day. For caregivers having difficulty expressing their needs, Dr. Carmichael suggests reminding them that setting boundaries empowers the people under our care. It is important the people under our care feel comfortable asking for more help and that they do not feel burdensome. Dr. George Everly, another Connectivity Council member, adds that getting caregivers respite where possible and showing appreciation every day is also crucial.
How to Support Caregivers
Sadly, many of members of our Caregiver community have expressed feeling underappreciated and overwhelmed. We invite you to share the care this week. Below is a list of our favorite ways to show our appreciation for caregivers.
• Say thank you with a phone call, text, handwritten note or a thoughtful little gift (or not so little 😊 )
• Listen. Sometimes, all we need is a shoulder to lean on
• Ask how you can help
• Some caregivers need help with household chores, others may need emotional support or help sorting legal/medical documents
• Pick up and drop off groceries for the caregiver
• Accompany the caregiver to his/her favorite snack or beverage shop and share a treat
While Caregiving comes with undeniable challenges, it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. For the McCann family, the topic of caregiving hits home because our brother, Kevin, has a developmental disability. Jim recalls how his family, when he was growing up, worked together to take on the shared responsibility of caring for Kevin.
Jim and Chris’ parents often rented small recreational or church spaces on Saturdays, so other families that had children with special needs could have a place where they felt comfortable and understood. The McCann family was also an early supporter of the Special Olympics (where Chris’ daughter works today).
Caring for Kevin meant creating a support system within the family. Jim believes Kevin taught himself and his siblings valuable lessons about responsibility, empathy, and compassion. These are lessons we hope to pass onto our children and grandchildren.
Kevin also inspired us to give back to others. Partnering with Independent Group Living Home (where Kevin lives) we founded SmileFarms, a nonprofit organization that provides people with developmental disabilities employment opportunities in agricultural settings.
All the best,
Chris and Jim