November is National Family Caregivers Month, the perfect time to salute those responsible for the health, safety and well-being of loved ones with a chronic illness, disability, history of substance misuse or frailty of old age. More than one in five Americans have provided such care in the past 12 months, so chances are you or someone you know is juggling the physical, emotional and financial strain of caregiving.

Family caregivers face diverse health issues and emotional challenges. Caregiving can be a gradual process, beginning with grocery shopping, helping with laundry and meal preparation and then evolving into a full commitment triggered by a major health event such as a stroke. Either way, it is very important to recognize that you are doing one of the toughest jobs around.

Caregiving can be very rewarding and yet challenging as you juggle other responsibilities, such as work or raising a family. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed which can negatively impact your own health.

Whether you’re a spouse or partner, adult child, parent or extended relative or neighbor caring for a loved one, it’s critical that you set realistic expectations and take care of yourself. Be realistic about what you can handle. Caregiving can become totally consuming and both physically and emotionally exhausting.

Tips for Caregivers

Make sure legal documents are in order. Talk with your loved one about finances and understand his or her healthcare wishes. Work with an attorney if documents such as Power of Attorney and Advance Directives are needed. By planning ahead you can reduce confusion, avoid conflict and have peace of mind.

Become your patient’s healthcare advocate. Learn about your loved one’s illness and what you can expect. Ask questions of the Doctor and take notes for future reference. It’s helpful to organize all of the medical documents including family and personal history, summaries from doctor visits and hospital discharges, test results, pharmacy printouts and insurance forms in one place.

Accept help from others. Caregiving can be a tiring job, so accept offers to help. Often people don’t know how to ask for help, so suggest tasks such as sitting with the patient while you go to the gym, walk the dog, grocery shopping or gardening. They will feel good knowing they made a difference and you will get a needed break.

Connect with fellow caregivers. Because friends and family may not truly understand the complexity of caregiving, it is very helpful to meet others handling similar challenges. The internet is full of resources and online support groups where you can share information, advice and encouragement.

Take care of your health. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious while caring for a loved one. However, you can’t neglect your own health. Eat a well balanced diet, exercise regularly and get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Pay attention to your stress level, as it can negatively impact your physical and emotional health. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing exercises and meditation are helpful in reducing stress.

If you see signs of depression such as negative thoughts that leave you exhausted, teary or irritable toward loved ones, get professional help right away.  Ignoring or denying the signs will not make them go away. The National Institute on Aging has some wonderful resources on their website Family caregivers | National Institute on Aging ( You are not alone.

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