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November is National Family Caregivers Month –“It Takes A Village”

November is National Family Caregivers Month – a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. Caregiving is a tough job. Family members are the primary source of support for older adults and people with disabilities in the U.S. This November, we thank those who lovingly give baths, clean houses, shop for, and comfort millions of friends and loved ones.

Over the last year and a half, we saw first-hand how the pandemic has complicated the lives of the over 350,000 unpaid caregivers in Utah providing loved ones with short-term or long-term care. Especially those with older loved ones who are most susceptible to the virus. In Utah alone, unpaid family caregivers devote 290 million hours of care to their loved ones, worth an annual estimated cost of over $4 billion. These unsung heroes should not only be recognized for their work, but should be given additional resources and assistance to ease their responsibilities. That is what the Five County Area Agency on Aging seeks to do by providing coordinated support services that reduce caregiver stress and enables them to provide care longer, which avoids or delays the need for costly institutional care.

This year’s theme for National Family Caregivers Month encourages family caregivers to celebrate the passions and interests that enrich their lives. Though the definition of a caregiver is someone who gives care to people who need help taking care of themselves, personally I have always felt the true definition of a caregiver is someone who often overlooks themselves while doing so. Because, in the 20+ years in which I have worked with family caregivers, I have rarely come across someone who is good at defining boundaries, engaging in self-care, asking for help/support, etc. That just seems to be how family caregivers are built. Now is the time to change that – for two reasons. 1) Family caregivers are worthy and deserving of support and a break and 2) family caregivers cannot be effective alone as their ability to provide support to another will be negatively impacted without support.

As a former family caregiver, I think about what passions and interests I have and what help it would have been if I had taken the time to engage in those on occasion. To be able to step away and focus on myself. For me, that means going to plays or the opera, having dinner with friends, or simply taking a break by relaxing and watching a movie. But, at the time, the thought didn’t occur to me that doing so was important or that I even had the time. I was stretched between caring for my Grandfather and work responsibilities. Through taking him to his medical appointments; preparing meals; helping him dress, bathe, use the restroom; and always listening for him before he got out of bed at night worried he would fall again, I found myself exhausted and overwhelmed. It wasn’t until we started working with a hospice organization that I was given permission to look after myself. To clarify: I didn’t give myself permission, the hospice organization did. They recognized my struggle and jumped in to help, providing me the support I needed to be more confident in my caregiving role and giving me time off in order to recharge.

The proverb “it takes a village” is not only applicable to raising children, but in any type of caregiving situation. One simply cannot manage it alone. The good news is there is an amazing village nearby, ready to provide the help and support needed during your caregiving journey. The team at the Five County Area Agency on Aging are experts in guiding you in your journey – connecting you to resources available, providing the education you need to be more confident, teaching you how to expand your own network of support and accept help from others, and helping you to take a break so you can recharge and engage in your own passions and interests again. Because you deserve supportive resources. Because you are worthy or taking time off. The role you have taken on as a family caregiver is honorable, but difficult. Please, let our village help you care for yours.

Kate is a gerontologist and a Certified Dementia Practitioner with 20+ years of experience within the long-term care industry, dementia care, and family caregiver support. Kate has published articles and numerous trainings on dementia topics for the Alzheimer’s Association and the long-term care companies for which she has worked. Kate serves as the Caregiver Support Program Manager for the State of Utah/Division of Aging & Adult Services, overseeing the support offered to family caregivers by the Area Agencies on Aging throughout the state. Having served as a family caregiver herself, she understands the role of a caregiver well. As a gerontologist, Kate is devoted to supporting and advocating for older adults as well as caregivers throughout Utah. Kate received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Wooster and a Master of Gerontological Studies degree from Miami University, both in Ohio.

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