National Family Caregivers Month is globally observed every year in the month of November. This event serves as a reminder to appreciate the work of countless people across the world facilitating care to a loved one, irrespective of whether they have attained formal training or not. Currently, the ageing population is unprecedented and the number of professional caregivers remains stagnant, leading to increased pressure on young adults to provide support to elderly members while managing higher education, jobs, and children1.
This trend doesn’t seem to shift anytime soon, considering that the UN predicts that the global population of people above 60 years of age will double to 2.1 billion by 2050. Likewise, it is also estimated that the number of people above 80 years of age will triple in the period between 2020 to 2050 and touch 426 million 2. Though longevity appears to be a societal success story but it clearly raises concerns regarding the added strain on health resources and access to caregiving.
The Critical Role of a Caregiver
A caregiver is any person who shoulders the responsibility of looking after an individual who is unable to look after himself due to disability, mental health disorder, chronic physical ailment, or frailty. This person can either be a family member, spouse, friend, or a professionally trained carer assisting with routine activities like dressing, eating, taking medication, or visiting the doctor. In a broader sense, family and professional caregivers are
1 World Economic Forum. 2020. Why Organizations Need to Care About Caregiving. Accessed on Oct 20th 2022
2 World Health Organization. 2022. Ageing and Health. Accessed on Oct 20th 2022
quite similar and yet have different ways of functioning, but with a common intent to support those in need.
Mostly, the former category of carers caters to physical, emotional, psychosocial, spiritual, and financial needs, and are often considered to play a significant role, as they are the ones offering real-time information about the patient 3. While, on the other hand, licensed professionals provide emotional and medical support that encompasses monitoring medicine intake, helping with exercises, feeding, changing wound dressings, and keeping a record of the patient’s physical and mental health. Professional caregiving is especially essential for older adults with a tendency of having complex and chronic health conditions.
Despite many common responsibilities, caregivers’ roles vary to a great degree throughout the course of caregiving. Factors like the time of entry into the caregiving role, changes in caregiving experienced by the patient, the time span of the role regarding the life course of the caregiver, and the diversity of families influence the outcome of the caregiving role. In cases where the patients become increasingly dependent on caregivers due to old age, frailty, Parkinson’s, cancer, or dementia, the job of the carer expands. On the contrary, when patients experience short-term health problems like heart failure, early-stage cancer, or episodes of disability, the caregiving role can be for a limited period but intense. In either situation, every phase of the caregiving trajectory introduces new challenges that the caregiver is required to overcome 4.
Significance of Celebrating and Caring for the Caregiver
National Family Caregivers Month is an opportunity for us to honor and acknowledge the efforts of caregivers who extend their support for the well-being of their family members, patients, friends, relatives, or neighbours. As important as this month is for appreciating the role caregivers play in our lives, those that care for us in times of need deserve to be cared for – not for a certain day or month but “around the clock,” which aligns with this year’s theme, Caregiving Around the Clock5.
4 National Library of Medicine. 2016. Family Caregiving Roles and Impacts. Accessed on Oct 20th 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK396398/
5 National Today. National Family Caregivers Month – November 2022. Accessed on Oct 20th 2022. https://nationaltoday.com/national-family-caregivers-month/#:~:text=National%20Family%20Caregivers%20Month%20in,%E2%80%9CCaregiving%20Around%20the%20Clock.%22
The following are some of the ways to express your gratitude to the caregivers for their relentless care and services 6:
- Check up on the caregiver and create a secure space for them to open up on their role and concern for the patient receiving care.
- Offer a helping hand; like dropping them at the market, picking up their kids from school, or giving a paid time off.
- Taking care of their meals on weekends; whether ordering them from a restaurant of their choice or cooking a homemade meal.
- Encourage the caregiver to address their own health problems too.
- Arrange for support services for the caregiver in your life; like helping them with the right sources to join a caregiver support group.
This acknowledgment is long overdue, but a welcome move for countless caregivers whose selfless work has often remained unseen. And what better time than this designated month to thank the caregivers who care for us, who keep our communities afloat, and who redefine the significance of compassion?
6 Northwestern Medicine. 2019. Ways to Show Appreciation to Caregivers. Accessed on Oct 20th 2022.https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/emotional-health/ways-to-show-appreciation-to-caregivers