November is National Family Caregivers Month

My best friend in the world Carlyn and I have been friends since Junior High School. We met in the 7th grade, after I had been out of school for a week following the death of my granddaddy. The day I came back to school, she ran up to me and said “I’ve been praying for you.” We sang in the choir together, graduated from high school and college together and pursued career paths in the field of aging together.

Our senior year of college, Carlyn’s grandfather began to decline. He’d been diagnosed with dementia. Because she lived close by and was studying to be a nurse practitioner specializing in gerontology, she became one of his primary caregivers. On many occasions, I assisted with spiritual and emotional care for her, her grandfather and his wife.

I did not put in as much time with Wilson and Junia as Carlyn did, but she and her parents have often told me that my presence, support and prayers for Wilson, Junia, Carlyn and their family were meaningful and helpful for them as they navigated the world of Alzheimer’s disease.

Family caregivers, family members caring for loved ones with illness or physical limitations, work very hard to ensure that their loved one is safe, is well taken care of, and has access to healthcare and meaningful experiences that give purpose and depth to life. As a result, family caregivers often sacrifice their own meaningful experiences of depth and purpose.

November is National Family Caregivers Month. If you know someone who is serving as a caregiver of a loved one, take time this month to express your gratitude and support to them. Here are some ways you can support the caregivers in your life, be they friends or family:

  1. Pray for them daily
  2. Listen: call or visit, and listen to their joys and struggles
  3. Ask how you can help
  4. Offer assistance that you are comfortably able to provide
  5. Enlist the help of others, with permission from the caregiver

If you yourself are caring for a loved one, here are some tips for your own self-care:

  1. Recognize early warnings of stress, which can include irritability, sleep problems, forgetfulness.
  2. Ask for and accept help
    1. Prepare a list of errands that need to be done, or other things you might need help with like meal preparation, house cleaning, and assistance with transportation.
    2. If your loved one has a particular interest in something, like art or music, enlist the help of someone you know who shares this interest and ask them to spend some time with your loved one, sharing in this particular interest (like coloring or painting together, listening to different kinds of music and discussing together, watching a favorite show together).
  3. Take time for yourself to do things that bring you peace
    1. Ask a friend, neighbor or professional caregiver to sit with your loved one for a while so you can have a break
        • Take a nap
        • Take in a movie
        • Read a book
        • Exercise

If you are caring for a loved one with an illness or a physical limitation, know that what you do makes a difference in the life of your loved one, in the life of the community; and your personal sacrifices and hard work do not go unnoticed. If you are caring for a loved one, November is your month to be appreciated, loved on, affirmed and encouraged.

If you are a friend, neighbor or family member of someone caring for a loved one, take time each day to encourage them through prayer, phone calls, or assistance; and especially in November, National Family Caregivers Month, if you can, make a special effort to help the caregivers in your life feel appreciated.

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