November is National Family Caregivers Month. Caldwell University Nursing Professor Aneesha Jean, DNP provides five tips to help make life a little easier for family caregivers. Jean teaches her nursing students about caregiving and last year led them in planning and hosting a caregivers conference while collaborating with non-profit organizations and community groups.
“Without family caregivers, the quality of life for those in need of assistance with activities of daily living would be dramatically impacted,” said Jean. “The care these individuals provide accounts for a huge amount of health care dollars and long-term care costs of older adults and individuals with disabilities.”
The CDC reports that “As the number of older Americans increases, so will the number of caregivers needed to provide care. The number of people 65 years old and older is expected to double between 2000 and 2030 … Currently, there are 7 potential family caregivers per adult. By 2030, there will be only 4 potential family caregivers per adult.”
Five tips from Professor Aneesha Jean for family caregivers.
1. Give caregivers permission to care for themselves and encourage them to talk about their feelings.
The stress and strain of caregiving, especially with someone who has a cognitive condition like Alzheimer’s or dementia, can create more of a burden on the family caregiver. It can make for a situation where caregivers can put their own health at risk. We want to make sure caregivers prioritize themselves and give them the skills and resources they need in the home and in the community to be able to fill in those gaps, because they didn’t go to school for this. The stress and strain of taking on the caregiving role can sometimes be significant. Many times we take for granted that there is a family member there to take on those responsibilities but it is really important for caregivers to decompress and talk about their feelings, even if it is talking to a friend about what you are going through, someone who will be nonjudgmental. Other times you may need to talk to a professional or join a support group. Homecare Options does an awesome job in offering some of those community support programs.
2. Encourage caregivers to get an annual physical.
We find in the data that many caregivers do not follow up on their annual physicals. It is important to teach caregivers the skills needed for the role of caregiver and also encourage them and support them in caring for themselves and in making their own health a priority.
3. Share caregiver resources.
We have to help caregivers fill the gap and teach them the skills of the role of a caregiver. We have to encourage them to care for themselves and make their own health a priority because when people take on the care of someone else they tend to prioritize the care recipient over their own health.
Resources are huge. It is not just about the skill. Not many caregivers know that they can get help from their county for things like geriatric planning and care management and assistance with legal and financial concerns of the care recipient. The New Jersey Department of Human Services’ website has information on caregiver resources and there are other resources like these:
New Jersey Division on Aging Services, https://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/home/
Statewide Respite Care Program, https://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/services/srcp/index.html
CDC_ For Caregiver, Family and Friends, https://www.cdc.gov/aging/caregiving/
CDC_Caring for yourself when caring for others, https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/caring-for-yourself.html
Alzheimer’s NJ, https://www.alznj.org/
4. Take a respite.
A respite can be anything from taking a vacation to getting your nails done to getting a home care assistant for a few hours to putting the care recipient in a long-term care facility for a few days. One of the risk factors, especially for long-term caregiving, is that it can be really draining. There is a risk that you could be subjecting the care recipient to abuse, frustration or anger. The state of New Jersey offers respite on a county-wide basis, and most organizations offer some type of respite. Your county Office on Aging or other senior agencies can help you enroll in respite care programs.
5. Family communication is key.
I think it is important for family members to talk with each other, with their siblings or whoever is considered family. It is important for the family members to talk about the needs of their loved one and offer what they can do. Maybe I can’t change Grandma’s diaper, but I can come in for a couple of hours, talk to Grandma, have coffee with Grandma and make lunch. I can drive around and let her see what is going on outside and get some air.
We can all find ways in which we can help and share the load of caregiving for our loved one. Because I always say, if we are blessed enough we will all get that opportunity to rely on someone when we get older.
Coming up–Caldwell Nursing students to present on “Aging Safely in the Home”- Caldwell Nursing students in their senior year in the Community and Public Health course will present to adults and caregivers on aging safely in the home at the Wayne Public Library at 3 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10. The presentation is part of a Living Well Series designed to provide education and resources to aging adults with the goal of allowing them to remain in their home. Attendees will learn about normal physical and cognitive changes related to aging, ways to adapt the home environment for safety and how to avoid falling. The presentation will include information on Passaic County Sheriff programs such as Angel Sense for tracking for wandering adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia and in-home products for fire safety. For information contact School of Nursing and Public Health faculty member Melissa Sepe at firstname.lastname@example.org