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October 26, 2004 > Taking Care of the Family Caregiver

Taking Care of the Family Caregiver

by Jennifer Abrams, CSA, CHES

The next time you feel like you've endured a long day at work, think about the following description of a 'typical day' for Joanne, one of more than 50 million Americans who have provided care for an elderly, chronically ill, or disabled family member or friend in the past year:

Joanne works in the accounting department for a commercial real estate developer. Once her workday is done, she races home to feed her family. On her way out the door to take her son to his soccer game, she throws in a load of laundry. Then she heads over to her mother's house. Several months ago, Joanne started to notice that her mother wasn't eating properly and that most of the food in the refrigerator was spoiled. So now, she spends 3 - 4 nights a week at her mother's house cooking nutritious meals, filling her pillbox, and making sure her mother is bathing properly. Some days her mother looks at her like she is a stranger. Joanne has been juggling her roles as mother, wife, employee, daughter, and now family caregiver for several months and the stress is becoming harder and harder to handle.

There is a good chance that you know someone like Joanne who is currently caring for a loved one. What you may not know is that recent medical research has found that the stress associated with caregiving can lead to a weakened immune system, and in some cases even premature death for the caregiver. Specifically, family caregivers who provide care 36 or more hours weekly are more likely than non-caregivers to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. For spouses the rate is six times higher; for those caring for a parent the rate is twice as high.

November is National Family Caregiver Month, a time to honor, thank and assist family caregivers. The National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA) sponsors this annual celebration. Each year the President issues a proclamation thereby providing official recognition of NFC Month and America's family caregivers.

"The research results are not surprising at all," said Suzanne Mintz, president of NFCA, a family caregiver herself and tireless advocate for other caregivers. "Year after year, the number one request from family caregivers has been for time off - a break from their daily caregiving responsibilities. Being a family caregiver can be a very rewarding experience, but the stress levels associated with it can reach extreme levels," added Mintz.

If you are a family caregiver yourself, please take the time to review the resources and information that are available to you at the NFCA website - Here you will find useful tips, information, and can sign up to receive a quarterly newsletter written specifically for the family caregiver. Membership is free to all family caregivers.

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