Every November, the Caregiver Action Network (CAN) gives a formal, month-long salute to elder care’s unsung heroes: the unpaid, volunteer, in-home family caregiver. They call it National Family Caregivers Month.
More than 90 million Americans currently provide some sort of unpaid care to a loved one dealing with disability, disease, chronic illness, or simply the challenges of old age. CAN is a non-profit organization that helps to link those caregivers with helpful online and community resources.
Each National Family Caregivers Month is assigned a theme. 2015’s is RESPITE. It sounds almost like an Aretha Franklin song, and much like “respect,” “respite” is an R-word that America’s volunteer caregivers could use a lot more of.
CAN reminds us that, for these hardworking heroes, respite isn’t just a request. It’s truly a need. None of us can help others if we don’t also take time for ourselves. In recognition of that fact, the organization has taken this year’s theme and made it an acronym for the various ways that caregivers can help themselves to some peace of mind this holiday season:
Rest and relaxation — An hour on the couch to watch some TV, an afternoon on the beach, or a day at the spa can work wonders for rejuvenation.
Energize — All of us reenergize in different ways. Ask yourself where you find your “happy place” in life and make a point of spending some time there to recharge.
Sleep — In a way, caregivers are really sleeping for two. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep each night. I’m not saying you should aim for 16, but don’t cut yourself short with four or five either. As CAN notes, insomnia and other sleep disorders are notoriously common among caregivers. If you’re dealing with those, talk to a doctor. Solutions are available.
Programs — This year, CAN has partnered with the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center to offer local programs throughout the country that help to accomplish National Family Caregivers Month’s goals.
Imagination — The brain needs a break too. Read a book. Doodle. Daydream. Let your imagination run free.
Take Five — Little breaks matter as much as big ones. Resolve to allowing yourself five-minute or ten-minute “breathers” throughout your busy days.
Exhale — Take a deep breath! Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mood, and add energy to your daily life.
As a Middlesex County elder law attorney, I work with family caregivers all year long. I know how much they need some respite (and how rarely they get it).
That’s why I’m so happy to see an acknowledgment like National Family Caregivers Month come along. November really is the right time for it. Few people need to hear “thank you” more than those who’re making sacrifices in their own lives for the good of others.