Becoming a caregiver can be overwhelming, especially when it happens suddenly and you are not fully prepared to embark on, unbeknownst to you, your caregiver journey. It can be like becoming a new parent. You are now responsible for ensuring that your loved one gets the best care and advice. You hear other people’s stories of how they did it, read lots of how-to manuals, attend workshops and seminars, but you truly don’t know until you experience it.
In preparing Mom’s medication, my 90-year-old Pop would fill a syringe using the light of the kitchen window to see if the dosage was correct. He set up the nebulizer on a table with handwritten step-by-step instructions to remind him how to operate it. Today, millions of family caregivers like Pop perform complex medical tasks that at one time would have been administered only by medical professionals.
Across the country, about 40 million Americans are doing an overwhelming, stressful and exhausting unpaid job every day. They cook meals, drive to appointments, manage medication, perform complex medical tasks and more. They help parents, spouses and other loved ones live independently at home — where they want to be. They are family caregivers.
Thanksgiving is approaching and families across the nation will be gathering to eat, maybe watch TV and, I hope, enjoy time together. But one of the most common questions I get this time of year is, “How can I get the generations in our family to interact more?” This year I have a great answer: Participate in StoryCorps’ Great Thanksgiving Listen using its new free app.
My Pop, who served in the Navy during World War II, was fond of sharing stories of his military years, and they always started out with the phrase, “When I was in the service of my country, fighting for mankind....” It reminded his children and grandchildren of the magnitude of the war and the sacrifice millions made.
I’m excited about AARP's current caregiving awareness campaign, to recognize and support America’s 40 million family caregivers. The campaign coincides with November’s National Family Caregivers Month.
When caring for Mom and Pop, my siblings and I struggled to find someone who could provide home care for our parents when we couldn’t. We wanted a person who was kind and caring, but we also wanted someone who was licensed, bonded and insured, with no criminal record of fraud or abuse. This was the most difficult part of our caregiving journey, and I know millions of family caregivers are now facing the same challenge.
Recently, I appeared on the Today show with Kathie Lee and Hoda to share some of my best tips for caregivers. The segments go by in a flash, so I thought I’d share a bit more about each of the tips I discussed on the show (see the video below).
I’m pleased to report that many AARP state offices are hosting free screenings across the nation next month of The Theory of Everything, the 2014 film about astrophysicist Steven Hawking’s early struggle with ALS. It’s part of AARP’s efforts to highlight November as National Family Caregivers Month, in conjunction with the organization’s I HEART CAREGIVERS initiative. (Check with your AARP state office to find out if there is a screening near you.)
Throughout my work to support family caregivers across the states, and my own caregiving journey, first lady Rosalynn Carter has been an inspiration. She is not only a leader in caregiving advocacy, education, research and support, but knows firsthand the joys and challenges of caregiving. Mrs. Carter first became a family caregiver at age 12 when her father was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, and went on to care for other family members over the years. Today she stands as a powerful voice for family caregivers as president of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving.
Like so many other family caregivers, I often place my own care on the back burner because I’m focused on the immediate needs of those I’m caring for. But that self-neglect eventually catches up with me — sometimes dramatically. I share one eye-opening experience in my new book, Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. An excerpt: