In my clinical work, I get to meet and work with an incredibly devoted set of family caregivers. These are parents caring for their special needs child, often while also caring for an aging parent. Or a spouse, sibling or friend who helps out with care coordination for someone with a mental illness or cognitive impairment. Or the friend who steps in with last-minute transportation help for someone who might be mobility impaired. My clinical colleagues and I rely every day on the proverbial “village” of caregivers as we work to maintain or improve health.
In my own family, I’m grateful for my mom and her siblings, who lovingly cared for my grandfather at the end of his life, and who continue to care for my grandmother. Our Center team is a team of caregivers too, and we pause during National Family Caregivers Month (#NFCMonth) and in this season of gratitude to share our thanks for the caregivers in our own families and our wider communities. Here is a sampling of reflections on caregiving from members of our team:
- “As I watch my dad look after my 96 year old grandmother, I really am in awe. He has done such a good job of making sure she’s safe and well cared for while still maintaining his own life and not drowning in her needs. I hope I can do as well when he is 96!”
- “My mother is 80 years old and doesn’t speak English. She needs my help at her medical appointments as she prefers to have a family member translate from Spanish for her. She doesn’t like strangers hearing about her medical conditions, so even when a provider offers a staff translator, she is uncomfortable without me accompanying her.”
- “I’m grateful for my father, who was a gentle, loving and committed caregiver for my mother during her many illnesses and, in particular, over the last year of her life. He navigated appointments with a dizzying array of doctors, nurses, social workers and home health aides, all the while managing most of the responsibilities at home. The physical and emotional toll it took on him was enormous, but he remained steadfast by her side throughout.”
- “Having an engaged and responsive local pharmacist who prepared a weekly bubble-packed card for all my mother’s daily medications – organized by morning, noon, evening and bedtime – relieved a great deal of stress for me about her safety, and allowed my mom to remain in charge of taking her own pills for as long as was possible, which was very important to her sense of autonomy.”
- “An important aspect of caregiving I’ve experienced is to be at the bedside when my mother has been hospitalized, both to provide comfort and to observe and advocate for her. Recently, after she fractured her leg in a fall, she had a truly alarming episode of post-operative delirium following the repair surgery. While the nursing staff were attentive, they reacted to this as fairly routine. My family and I pushed ourselves to be assertive, requesting steps to manage and quiet her room, to help speed the resolution of my mother’s delirium. She’s doing much better now.”
But in addition to our gratitude, there’s much we can do to support caregivers. Let’s make sure that the health care system: recognizes their importance and includes them in care teams; addresses caregiver burnout, including the provision of respite care; ensures caregivers have peace of mind that their loved ones will ALWAYS have access to the health care coverage they need; and is a system that is easy to navigate so we can spend less time sorting out the bureaucracy of health care and instead be able to spend time together celebrating what matters most in our families’ lives.
Happy holidays, and thank you to all of the caregivers out there.