It’s National Family Caregivers Month

“There are only four kinds of people in the world–those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” Rosalynn Carter


More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.
The value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).

The above (2009) statistics are the most recent ones available on the National Family Caregivers Month website. This month, designated National Family Caregivers Month, is a great time to:

  • Become more aware of how much family caregivers are contributing to the health and well-being of millions of our citizens–our neighbors, friends, and family members
  • Give thanks for them, in this month of Thanksgiving
  • Express appreciation for all the good work they do, and have done; and
  • Find ways to support them.

In addition to all the other things they do, family caregivers are often involved in the process of downsizing a family home. Sometimes the home has to be emptied of many, most, or all of the things in it because the people who have been living there have  to move into retirement housing, assisted living, or a nursing home, and the home is being prepared for sale. This is a stressful and often sad process, but it can be made less sad, even joyful, given helpful support from other family members and friends.

There is an increasing trend to try to find ways to allow aging people who want to stay in their homes to do so as long as possible, and to bring nursing care to them. But even when this happens, downsizing still usually needs to be done, in order to make room for wheelchairs, ramps, and other equipment that may be needed to provide care and to provide a safe, healthy, uncluttered space for people to live in and for health care workers to be able to provide the needed care, as well as to prepare for the inevitable day when they will no longer be able to live in the home.

Often the bulk of the burden of this work falls on whatever sibling or siblings happen to live nearest the aging parents. Often those siblings are members of the “sandwich generation,” struggling to care for themselves and their children while also taking care of aging parents.

As Thanksgiving approaches this year, and families gather (or not), it would be nice to become more aware of and remember the sacrifices, and the many often thankless tasks these unsung heroes are engaged in on a daily basis, and express our appreciation for all they do.

Words of appreciation are great, but thoughtful actions are even better: offering to babysit so your sister and brother-in-law can get a rare night out together, taking them out yourselves to a movie or the theater, or maybe sending a fruit basket or some other kind of special treat they can enjoy after you’ve gone back home, just to let them know that in your case, out of sight does not mean out of mind, and that they’re not as alone as it may sometimes seem.

It probably would be appreciated also, if those of us who live far away curb the instinct to instantly offer our suggestions and/or criticize the way siblings on the home front are handling things when the next stressful situation comes up, and instead ask them what we can do to help. Remember, they’re the ones who are there, day after day, week after week; and many of the ideas we have about how things should be handled may well be easier said than done.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.


One Response

  1. Up to half of all caregivers are also working, FCA states. These employees often lose time and wages, give up on career opportunities, or even quit their jobs to provide care to their family member.

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