November is National Family Caregivers Month

November is National Family Caregivers Month

by Janet Cromer, R.N.

Did you know that National Family Caregivers Month (NFC Month) is observed every November? The National Family Caregiver Association (NFCA) originated the observance in 1997 to focus attention on the more than 65 million family caregivers who provide 80% of the long-term care services in the US. Studies show that family caregivers provide over $375 billion in “free caregiving services” just in care for older adults annually.

Caregivers of persons with brain injury are certainly represented in those statistics. Every year we reach out to the thousands of new caregivers of persons injured in accidents, falls, military action, diseases, and sports. We form a courageous network, and we need to take every opportunity to advocate for and educate ourselves and others.

NFC Month has three main goals:

  1. Designate a public time to thank, support, educate, and advocate for family caregivers.
  2. Speak up about community programs which support family caregivers.
  3. Advocate for stronger public policies which address family caregiving issues and the need for ongoing training and support.

For 2012, NFCA is continuing the special theme: Identifying Family Caregivers. This need came about because caregivers are generally invisible in the healthcare system, even though they accompany the sick person to appointments and provide much of the care. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a place on the medical record or intake form to note the name and contact information of a survivor’s caregiver?

Studies have also shown that caregivers are at higher risk of depression and chronic illness. Wouldn’t it make sense to add the question “Are you a family caregiver?” to medical intake forms? That would alert the healthcare professional to ask about stressors, supports, respite arrangements, and medical screenings.

NFCA recommends that there be a space on all medical intake forms and electronic medical records to capture information about caregivers and care recipients. How can you take action now?

When you fill out a form for yourself or a family member, write that you provide care for that person.

  • Encourage your healthcare provider to add the recommended spaces to intake forms.
  • Educate healthcare providers. Tell your provider about the specific challenges and stressors you face. Share your concern about health consequences, and ask for resources.

Raise awareness about NFC Month

Each of us has a valuable story to share. What better time to reach out to your community or the media to raise awareness and gain support for caregiver resources?  Here are a few ideas.

  1. Pitch a story to your local newspaper or radio station. Community and national TV stations and cable networks welcome important stories which feature local families and link to a national issue.  Here is an example: First, pick a story about a support group you’re involved with, or an accomplishment you helped the survivor achieve. Write down what you think is important to convey. Then, contact the reporter by telephone or email. Match your topic to a reporter for that section of the newspaper-i.e- the feature section, the metro section, or a columnist who covers “human interest” stories.
  2. Write your own article. Don’t be shy! You are an expert on many aspects of brain injury, caregiving, and advocacy. Write an in-depth article or personal essay. Be sure to include your byline! Send the article to local newspapers, magazines, newsletters, or blogs.
  3. Submit a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece. Do you have an opinion about funding cutbacks for homecare programs? A bill being debated in your state legislature that affects caregivers or survivors? Write a letter in response to an article or editorial. You can also submit an op-ed piece which offers your insider’s perspective on an issue along with your recommendations. You can check the newspapers specifications for submitting op-eds in that section of the website. 

Celebrate and Support Family Caregivers

  1. Start at home by organizing a family & friend meeting. NFC Month is a great time to bring everyone in your circle (involved or not) up to date on the challenges you and the survivor face. Provide a detailed list of ways others can help. Be creative and assertive. In addition to direct care, ask for help staging a yard sale to clear the house. Or help mastering the Internet or organizing records. Ask a friend to coordinate help with an online tool such as Lotsahelpinghands.
  2. Tell your survivor and family how you would like to be acknowledged. Caregivers often skip over our own need to feel thanked and appreciated. How about requesting a gift certificate for a massage or yoga class? Coverage for a night out with your friends? A thank you card signed by the survivor?
  3. Participate in community education and celebration activities. Refer to the NFCA list of ideas for how to celebrate NFC Month in your community, organization, or spiritual tradition.

We all know that there is power and strength in numbers. Join with caregivers across the US to raise awareness, and advocate for policies and programs to empower caregivers. Most of all, take pride in your extremely valuable part in your loved one’s health, recovery, and well-being!

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