This month, we honor family caregivers—those among us who spend much of their own daily lives caring for loved ones.
The Administration for Community Living (ACL) explains, "Celebrated every November, National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM) is a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. It offers an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues, educate communities, and increase support for caregivers."
According to the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers, "Each year, more than 53 million family caregivers provide the majority of support that makes it possible for older people and people with disabilities to live in the community." Caregivers serve as "the backbone of our nation's system of long-term care."
At GBU, we've long known that family caregivers play critical roles in patients' lives, especially those going through treatments for urologic cancers, such as prostate cancer and bladder cancer. But we also know that caregivers themselves also need support and care—even more so considering that half of all caregivers are over 50.
Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but it can also take a toll on the caregiver's well-being. The CDC says that nearly 1 in 5 caregivers reports fair or poor health and/or neglects their health.
Bottom line: Caring for the caregiver is essential. Below are strategies for doing exactly that. As with all content on our blog, the following is meant to be educational, not diagnostic or prescriptive.
Offer a compassionate ear.
Caregivers experience a lot of stress—and not only with the day-to-day tasks required by caregiving, but also with the worry and uncertainty they can have for their loved one.
A great way to support someone who is caring for a family member is to simply listen. Allow them to vent their frustrations or concerns. Acknowledge everything they're doing. Give hugs, hold hands, and let them cry. Sometimes the simple act of bearing witness to all they do can go a long way in giving caregivers the boost they need.
Organize a food drop-off program.
One of the biggest challenges for caregivers is caring for everyone else in the household. Cooking meals tops that list of challenges. Everyone still needs to eat, right? Organizing food drop-offs can be a great way to take the load off the caregiver's shoulders.
Some helpful links: Meal Train has supported 2.5 million families, and The National Council on Aging has an excellent article on the Home-Delivered Nutrition Program.
Give caregivers much-needed breaks.
When making offers to help, keep in mind that specificity is key. If you ask a caregiver if they need a break or if you can give them a break, the caregiver might politely decline. Instead, say something like, "How about I come over on Saturday from noon to three and I'll take care of things while you're out?" This offer is specific and concrete, so it will be easier for an overwhelmed caregiver to wrap their head around.
Pay attention to warning signs about tolls on a caregiver's mental and physical health.
If a caregiver expresses being overwhelmed to the point that you’re worried for their own safety or physical or mental health, encourage them to talk to a professional, seek available in-home services for additional assistance, and/or participate in caregiver support groups. Be on the lookout for signs of self-harm. You can learn more about warning signs and ways to help someone who is suicidal through Samaritans.
Educate yourself and help raise awareness.
Learning more about the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers is an excellent first step. As HHS.gov explains, this strategy—which is the first of its kind—discusses "nearly 350 actions the federal government will take to support family caregivers in the coming year and more than 150 actions that can be adopted at other levels of government and across the private sector to build a system to support family caregivers." It will be updated every two years.