Caring for caregivers all year

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Tom Rotz
Tom Rotz

Those caring for loved ones who have Alzheimer's disease can attest that the disease costs caregivers more than just their time. Caregiving can be stressful, and this stress can have a negative effect on a caregiver's health, as well as their personal relationships, work and other family members. In 2015, more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer's.

This incredibly tough work should not go unnoticed. November has been designated National Family Caregivers Month by the Caregiver Action Network, and it offers a special opportunity to recognize the contributions of those who provide care for their loved ones. Our appreciation, however, doesn't need to be limited to one month of the year.

As professionals working in the senior living industry, we have the platform and the opportunity to advocate for these individuals. Not only can we celebrate the efforts of caregivers, but we also can help increase support, educate and raise awareness for family caregiver issues.

The Caregiver Action Network's theme for National Family Caregivers Month in 2016 was “Take Care to Give Care,” a theme designed to encourage caregivers to ensure that they are tending to their own health while caring for others. It's a message that resonates in any year. From promoting good nutrition, to attaining enough time to rest and recharge, it's vital for caregivers to practice good health and make their own well-being a priority.

The good news? Everyone can help someone.

Many resources exist for professional caregivers to share with their residents' families and family caregivers that include helpful information and support beneficial to them.

The Alzheimer's Association offers information about early-stage caregiving, middle-stage caregiving and late-stage caregiving, as well as a 24/7 Helpline. Caregiver Action Network also provides a variety of helpful resources, including a family caregiver forum and Alzheimer's and dementia caregiver video resource center.

Senior living professionals can serve as valuable resources as well. We can honor family caregivers by letting them know we are there for them, from providing encouragement to supplying Alzheimer's and dementia information to giving advice and to letting them know their options when it comes to professional care.

Finally, there are several ways — both big and small — that senior living professionals can honor caregivers while encouraging others to honor them and thank them for their hard work. A few of my favorites to pass along to families of our residents include:

  • Send flowers, a card or something sweet to show you are thinking of them.
  • Prepare dinner – and make plenty enough for leftovers.
  • Run a few errands on their to-do list.
  • Offer to help with yard work, get their house cleaned or water their flowers.
  • Organize a local fundraiser to help with caregiving costs.
  • Pick up a few items at the grocery store to save them a trip.
  • Spend time looking after their loved one while they visit a caregivers support group or take time to recharge.
  • Walk their dog, or watch their children.
  • Treat them to a night out with movie tickets or dinner while making arrangements for someone to look after their loved one.
  • Give a stress-relief care package, full of aromatherapy oils, lotion and more.
  • Offer to wash their car or fill up their gas tank.

If nothing else, just simply taking a moment to check in with them and see how they are doing or lend an ear when they need someone to talk to will make an incredible difference to someone dealing with the stress of being a caregiver.

Caregivers make a difference in the lives of their loved ones every day. Let's show our appreciation when we can.

Tom Rotz is the executive director at The Kenwood by Senior Star in Cincinnati.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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