November Is Family Caregivers Month

The sideview mirror of a car reflecting the road behind.My mother called me last Thursday night to let me know she was in the hospital and would be having surgery the next day. As I drove to North Carolina to be with her, I was thinking about how many people are in a similar situation, providing care for a family member from a distance. As I got closer to the hospital, I realized it didn't really matter how long or short the distance is between you and the family member you are caring for — being a caregiver is hard work.

Caregivers are usually thought of as anyone who provides help to another adult in need. People who are not paid to provide care are known as informal caregivers or family caregivers. (Of course, parents act as unpaid caregivers to their children for many years!) The most common type of informal caregiving relationship is an adult child caring for an elderly parent, but there are other types of caregiving relationships:

  • Adults caring for other relatives, such as grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles
  • Spouses caring for elderly husbands or wives
  • Middle-aged parents caring for severely disabled adult children
  • Adults caring for friends and neighbors
  • Children caring for a disabled parent or elderly grandparent

Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. It can take many forms and can lead to health consequences such as depression, anxiety, and even a weakened immune system.

Part of the reason that caregivers often have health problems is that they are less likely to take good care of themselves. Caregiver stress can lead to serious health problems. If you are taking care of a loved one, friend, or neighbor, you should take steps to reduce your stress as much as you can. Here are some tips for reducing stress if you're in a caregiving situation. And remember to reach out to a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional right away if your stress leads you to physically or emotionally harm yourself or the person you are caring for.

If you're looking for some resources for caregivers, here is a list I found helpful.

I'm lucky. My mom appears to be recovering well, even though it will take a long time until she's back to her usual self. While she recovers and I drive back and forth to help take care of her, I'm trying to pay attention to my stress and make healthy diet choices (instead of eating all of the chocolate I can find). If you are in a caregiving situation as well, remember that you're not alone. I wish you well.