"It was only a sunny smile, and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Whether it is a sunny voice on the end of the phone, clearing the sidewalk of snow, helping with bathing or holding someone’s hand at the end of life, family caregivers make a daily difference in the lives of those for whom they care. An unpaid role, it is one of the highest forms of philanthropy and a critical civic duty. Research shows caregivers provide an average of three hours per week in their role and, for almost 20 per cent of all caregivers, this commitment rises closer to 10 hours per week.
Family caregivers provide upwards of 80 per cent of the care and support their care recipient needs. Yet, this contribution, provided by thousands of British Columbia’s family caregivers, goes largely unnoticed.
Family caregivers care for aging parents, adult and young children with disabilities, individuals with mental health issues or addictions, and friends and families with chronic, acute and terminal illnesses. Unpaid caregiving isn’t reserved for only family. Caregivers give support and care in many different ways, including brightening up someone’s day through conversation, activities and touch, managing medication and appointments, assisting with intimate personal care, providing emotional support, assisting with mobility, shopping and housework, and preparing meals.
Caregiving can be very rewarding. Similar to volunteering or donating financially to a worthy organization, caregivers strongly believe in their cause and willingly give the gift of time, care, and skills.
Many caregivers report feeling the bond with the person they are caring for has strengthened; gratitude for being able to help in a time of need; and, generally, being more present in life. However, saying “Yes” to caregiving means saying “No” to other important activities. Caregivers often report being unable to spend more time with other family members and friends; less time to enjoy meaningful leisure and social activities; increased feelings of stress and anxiety associated with their role; and many expressed simply not knowing or having the skills to care. As the caregiving role becomes more demanding with time and complexity, so does the risk of negative health issues, such as lack of sleep, decreased physical and mental well-being, feeling overwhelmed, and increased stress with time, work and family commitments.
Family caregivers are giving time and often making sacrifices in their own lives to provide care. We, as a society, need to shift our thinking on how we place value on family caregivers.
Where to start? For one, if you know a caregiver, simply thank them for what they do. They may not hear it often enough. And if you are a caregiver, Family Caregivers of BC thanks you for your invaluable contributions to those who need it most.
If you need support, please reach out to us. We can be your sunny smile on the other end of the line.
Wendy Johnstone is a Gerontologist and a consultant with Family Caregivers of British Columbia in Victoria, BC.
Visit www.familycaregiversbc.ca or call 250-384-0408 for more information.
november 2016 INSPIRED senior living
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