Letter to the editor - Thanksgiving
Letter to the editor - Thanksgiving

November is not only for Thanksgiving, but caregiving as well

November is not only for Thanksgiving, but caregiving as well

By Jagdish Khubchandani and Marc Ransford

As we enter Thanksgiving week, millions of us will soon travel to our hometowns, attend a gathering with friends, or host the traditional celebration filled with hugs, stories, and remembering why we are together.

And, many of us will fix a plate of delicious food for someone who needs our help.

Yes, let’s be thankful we are caring for an aging relative, a cousin recovering from surgery, or a youngster under the weather. Such obligations are unwritten but included as part of being in a family.

And, while it is Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season, it’s also November, which is the National Family Caregivers Month, Home Care and Hospice Month, Alzheimer’s Disease Month, and Long-term Care Awareness Month.

We can’t overlook the fact that most of us will become a caregiver at some point in our lives. More than a fifth of U.S. adults have reported being a caregiver last year.

But, a look at the data about caregiving is eye-opening. The average duration of an American caregiver’s role is for four years with almost a fifth of all the caregivers providing care for less than a year, for more than 5 years, or more than 10 years.

Family caregivers spend an average of more than 20 hours per week providing care and almost a quarter of these caregivers spend more than 40 hours per week providing care.

It is never easy to be a caregiver. The role comes with enormous social, financial, psychological, physical, and emotional burdens. Here are a few facts and tips to remember as you continue your journey in the role of a caregiver.

* Understand your caregiver role: The vast majority of caregivers (85%) care for a relative or other loved one, more than one-third care for a parent, 15% care for a friend, neighbor, or another non-relative; 14 % care for a child; 7% care for a parent-in-law; 7% care for a grandparent or grandparent-in-law. Some caregivers are simply financial contributors whereas others are involved in helping with daily chores. Defining your role will help you understand your boundaries, liabilities, and obligations.
* Seek financial advisors to help plan and educate yourself about financial status, liabilities, assets, mortgages, and insurance policies.
* Consult tax experts and IRS resources to review items such as income, benefits, deductions, tax credits, dependent exemptions, medical expense coverage if you provide care for a family member. 

*At times, one also has to seek legal help on living will/advanced directives, rights and obligations, crime and identity theft, protective services and defense of guardianship, neglect/abuse and discrimination, inheritances and real estate, and consent when the person you care for cannot make these decisions.
* Seek low-cost or free medication samples from healthcare facilities and doctors for those you are providing care, and seek assistance from community-based resources and in neighborhood facilities for meals, transportation, and other social services.
* Join a support group or find social support because caregiving can impose a burden on a person’s health; seeking support will ensure that the caregiver doesn’t end up becoming sick which could result in greater medical expenses. This would help avoid stress and caregiver burnout.
* Practice healthy lifestyles, know how to set boundaries and realistic goals, be kind to yourself and know that we all have a limit to how much we can do for others. 

As we prepare for the coming celebration, take a few minutes to examine the family members, friends, and other people in your life who need or will need assistance. It’s not easy being a caregiver, but today – more than ever – we should be thankful we can lend a hand in their time of need.

And, on Thanksgiving, give them extra time, say a few kind words, and show them you care. Yes, it’s not easy being a caregiver, but if we take time to prepare, we can enrich their lives and make this time together so much more rewarding.

Jagdish Khubchandani is a Professor of Public Health at New Mexico State University.
Marc Ransford is the founder of MR Public Relations, Indianapolis.


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