Did you know November is Family Caregivers Month?
Let's take a moment to celebrate a major team player on a rehabilitation team:
the caregivers! We would not be here without you.
Who is a caregiver?
Put simply, caregivers provide assistance with another person’s social or health needs.
In reality, their role is much more comprehensive – from helping with activities of daily living (ADLs), managing appointment schedules, organizing communication among team members, emotionally and financially supporting their loved one, and so much more.
What is caregiver burden?
Unfortunately, many caregivers experience caregiver burden and stress – the negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects due to the chronic stress and burden of caring for family members.
The most common reasons for stress include: multiple parallel stressors, lack of hope, financial strain, and personal health issues. Caregiver burden can impact social, emotional, and psychosocial areas of family life.
Caregiving responsibilities can increase and change as the recipient’s needs increase, which may result in additional strain on the caregiver.
How can we care for the caregivers?
Here are 8 ways you can support the caregivers in your life today.
1. Ask how you can support them.
Sometimes the caregivers know exactly what they need to make their day and week easier. If so, great! Stop reading now and go help :) If not, let's take a closer look at some more ways we can help.
2. Help with daily tasks.
Consider what tasks you could take off their plate that would fit easily within your schedule.
Appointments: Can you help with transportation to/from appointments?
Food shopping/cooking: Can you buy groceries or deliver a home-cooked meal?
Household tasks: Can you bring the trash to the curb each week on trash day?
Lotsa Helping Hands is a great resource that creates an online care calendar that you can use to organize meals and other help from friends & family.
3. Provide space for self-care.
Ask how the family member is taking care of themselves. Offer breaks for the family member to have some time to themselves. For example, you could say, "Let me watch Sammy while you go ____ (talk a walk, lay down, take a shower/bath, go to therapy, etc.)"
Consider putting together a self-care package or online gift basket. Here is a great blog post about Creating Hospital Care Packages.
4. Suggest mindfulness meditation.
There are many benefits of mindfulness and meditation on our health, including: improving heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing • managing stress • increasing
self-awareness • focusing on the present • reducing negative emotions.
There are many widely available free apps and websites that provide quick recordings and resources. One of my favorites is Loveyourbrain.com. Pro tip: LoveYourBrain also has online caregiver retreats where they provide resources and community connection.
5. Encourage participation in a support group.
Support groups allow people to share personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies, or firsthand information with people who are in a similar situation. To find the right support group for your loved one, ask care providers about any support groups at their clinics, hospitals, or national organizations.
For example, you may look at your local chapter of the Brain Injury Association of America for their online and in-person support groups. Here is a link to the BIA of Massachusetts support groups and offerings.
6. Share updates with friends and family.
It can be overwhelming to keep family and friends updated. Consider helping the caregiver set up or manage this communication.
Caringbridge.org is a free online tool for sharing health updates. It simplifies communication by providing one platform for updates, photos, funding, and scheduling. There is even a planner section where you can organize caregiver tasks, scheduling visits, running errands and more. Friends and family can choose to subscribe/receive email notifications when updates occur.
7. Offer to set up a fundraiser.
Think about what might be meaningful to the loved one, whether that be a specific item, event, or meaningful phrase. For example, one of my clients loved telling jokes, so we created a T-shift with one of his favorite jokes through Custom Ink. Want to know the joke on the back of the T-shirt?
What do you call a cow with no legs?
(Read to the bottom for the answer!)
8. Research additional state and national resources.
Some states may have free online resources available to caregivers. For example, Massachusetts has many resources to support family caregivers in Massachusetts, including The Massachusetts Family Caregiver Support Program, Caregiver Help and Information, Caregiving Information for Workplaces, and even a Monthly Newsletter includes resources such as webinars, articles, podcasts, self-care tips and caregiver stories. Be sure to check out Additional Caregiving Resources on Mass.gov.
Other national organizations may have some additional resources available online, like The Brain Injury Association of America's Caregiver Information Center.
What are your favorite ways to support the caregivers in your life? Please share below so our whole community can benefit!
Now, back to the joke! What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef! :)
Jenny Traver, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS
Cameron, J. I., Naglie, G., Silver, F. L., & Gignac, M. A. (2013). Stroke family caregivers’ support needs change across the care continuum: a qualitative study using the timing it right framework. Disability and rehabilitation, 35(4), 315-324.
Marsh, N. V., Kersel, D. A., Havill, J. H., & Sleigh, J. W. (2002). Caregiver burden during the year following severe traumatic brain injury. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 24(4), 434-447.
Webster, J., Taylor, A., & Balchin, R. (2015). Traumatic brain injury, the hidden pandemic: A focused response to family and patient experiences and needs. South African Medical Journal, 105(3), 195-198.