Looking back to my years a family caregiver, I wonder if I'd worn a badge that read "Fragile - Handle with Care", it might have been easier for others to understand me. Why I often had puffy eyes from crying, or scatter brained from sleep deprivation. I can remember a certain period of time when I was issued a number of traffic violations...speeding through a school zone of all things (my children were both in elementary school at the time). Thank goodness this was before cell phones. There were times when I simply wasn't myself. I was emotional, physically and spiritually worn out and burned out. Thinking clearly was often a challenge because I was overwhelmed.
The statistics are staggering. According to AARP 2015 report, approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months. Nearly 1 in 10 caregivers is 75 years of age or older (7%). These numbers are rising at alarming speed and will not slow down for many years.
My 15 year journey of personal caregiving for my parents and 10 years of professional work in the field of caregiver education continues to open my eyes to the very real challenges we face:
- We have a public health crisis that is not being addressed quickly enough
- Family caregivers continue to be in desperate need of education and support, especially those caring for loved ones with cognitive impairment
- Most of our public agencies and community services are already stretched to meet the demands of providing services for older adults and their caregivers - HELP IS NEEDED FROM THE PRIVATE SECTOR
- Faith Communities have enormous opportunities to minister to the aging adults and their families, but they need help and guidance in doing so
Families account for the lions share of caregiving taking place in this country (and around the world), yet studies consistently report that stress, fatigue, isolation, lack of education and support, understanding care options, finding respite services, and declining health are among the many challenges that loved one's face.
For those of us passionate about helping these families better cope, find help, stay well (so that they can take of their loved ones) - we must work together for change. I'm moved each time I have the privilege of talking with and helping a family. Sometimes that is with education, many times it's with a hug. Always it's showing someone that you understand and care.
Thank you to all we are able to work with in reaching out to families - understanding they are fragile and need to be handled with great care.
Pam Brandon is President and Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute based in Dallas-Fort Worth. A passionate advocate for family caregivers, she leads a fast growing network of aging and dementia educators across the US and abroad and is the creator of the Dementia Live™️ Experience.