Celebrating Family Caregivers!

November each year is COPD Awareness month, but did you know it’s also National Family Caregivers Month? This is a time to celebrate all those hard-working, compassionate family caregivers caring for their loved ones with COPD.

This initiative was described by President Obama during his administration as “a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country.”

“Family members, friends, and neighbors devote countless hours to providing care to their relatives or loved ones. During National Family Caregivers Month, we recognize and thank the humble heroes who do so much to keep our families and communities strong.” ~ President Barack Obama, NFC Month Proclamation 2012

About 15 million people in the U.S. have COPD and it is the third leading cause of death. At least twice that number of people are affected by the disease. I’m talking about caregivers too. Most people who have COPD need assistance on some level and at some point during their lives. In most cases, these caregiving support duties fall to a family member, perhaps a spouse or an adult child.

I can sure relate to caregiving – I cared for my mother during her final years with COPD. It was one of the biggest and most unexpected challenges I’ve faced in my life. It was also rewarding to help my mom live out her life with dignity and in the bosom of her family.

Typically, family caregivers provide services such as:

It’s not unusual for caregivers to have to be available around the clock. They often sacrifice or forego their own needs in favor of their loved one.

You Are Not Alone!

Remember, though, that you are not alone — there is support. The Caregiver Action Network (CAN, for short) maintains a robust website, filled with links to caregiver support networks, educational articles and videos and more. I highly encourage you to check it out, if you haven’t heard of it before.

It would have been great to have known about this when I was caring for my mom. I was fortunate to have quite a bit of family support during my caregiving years, but it still would have been helpful to have known about this resource.

Why We Honor Caregivers

National Family Caregivers Month is a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the United States. By doing so, we can:

  • raise awareness of caregiving issues & encourage caregivers to identify themselves
  • celebrate caregivers efforts and results
  • improve & strengthen support for family caregivers

When we take better care of our caregivers, then we’re also helping to support the people who are chronically ill and in need of caregiving.

What This Means for COPD Caregivers

Anyone who cares for someone with a chronic illness has a tough job and needs support. But because COPD so often affects older adults, caregivers themselves may be at risk. This is especially true if the caregiver is an elderly spouse.

So, here are a few tips based on those from the CAN on how family caregivers can take care of themselves better — and therefore also care better for their loved one with COPD.

  1. Seek support from other caregivers. Remember, that you do not have to go it alone. Ask for help, whether from other family members, friends, your parish or caregiver support groups. The Caregiver Action Network is a great place to start.
  2. Take care of yourself. You won’t be strong enough to care for your loved one unless you take care of your own health. Don’t neglect your own needs!
  3. Accept help. There is no shame in admitting you can’t always “do it all” or that you need an occasional break. When people offer to help, tell them specific things that will be most beneficial to you and your loved one.
  4. Become an advocate for your loved one’s health care. Learn how to communicate in an effective way with your loved one’s doctor and other members of the health care team. Be well-informed about the treatment plan and don’t be afraid to speak up.
  5. Know when to take a break. Caregiving is hard work, physically, mentally and emotionally. Give yourself time off and do things that allow you to rest, relax and recharge your batteries.
  6. Recognize the signs of anxiety and depression. It is not uncommon for caregivers to suffer from anxiety and depression. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help, if you need to.
  7. Embrace technology. We live in an era where new technological advances are being introduced every month. Many of them can help caregivers with some of their vital tasks. Stay abreast of what’s available on this page: Technology for Family Caregivers
  8. Keep medical and legal info organized. With a chronic illness, there’s a lot to keep track of. My mother started a notebook when she first got ill and I kept it up until her death. It was really helpful… lists of her medications, her living will and medical proxy, medical history, etc.  You could also corral medical info in electronic files. The important thing is to be able to easily access the information when you need to.
  9. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

To hear from other COPD caregivers, you might want to explore this page.

In Summary

Family caregivers for people with COPD make a significant difference in the quality of life for their loved ones, perhaps even in their life expectancy. But caregivers need support and recognition too. So, this month, of all months, let us honor their devotion and compassionate caring. Help spread the word about the important work that the family caregivers of our nation do.

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