The journey of family caregivers

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Support, respect not frequent enough

By Monica Ruehling

Think about the last time you journeyed somewhere new and foreign. There were many preparations that had to be made, including an itinerary of places to visit and even places to avoid. The traveler tries to learn as much information ahead of time about the places that will be visited so the trip doesn’t seem so scary or overwhelming. The end result of any journey is to return home again with lots of wonderful memories and stories to tell.

Any journey that we take become a part of us and makes us who we are. Journeys become a part of our history and can help to shape our future.

For family caregivers or individuals caring for someone who is aging, has chronic illnesses or debilitating diseases, the journey of caregiving often begins suddenly, without time to prepare, plan or learn. The journey might also become so routine and unnoticed that one day the caregiver realizes they are caring for someone else’s needs more often than their own.

If you provide care for someone — a parent, a spouse, a relative — you have the right to call yourself a family caregiver and deserve the respect that goes along with the title. Family caregivers have the power to make a positive difference in their loved one’s care and the quality of life for the entire family.

Many caregivers, unfortunately, do not see themselves in this light. But quickly into the journey, they find caregiving is more work and responsibility than ever thought possible. Even as advanced as medicine and technology has become, family caregivers always will be needed as the backbone of our healthcare system. Without this significant care, government aided programs, hospitals, and nursing facilities would be even more strained.

National Family Caregiving Month and its goals resound with any family caregiver. Caregivers are encouraged to take steps every day to make their lives easier, improve the care of themselves and their loved ones, and to continue to raise awareness about their particular situation.

•Believe in Yourself — The National Family Caregivers Association stresses the importance of trying to maintain a positive attitude by recognizing your strengths and limitations. This will enhance a caregiver’s ability to set goals and boundaries themselves and others.

•Protect Your Health — As a caregiver, it is critically important to maintain physical and emotional health and well being. If a caregiver doesn’t do this for themselves, who will?

•Reach Out for Help — This is not a sign of weakness, but rather it demonstrates strength, an awareness of abilities, and the need for added assistance.

•Speak Up for Your Rights — The NFCA encourages family caregivers to learn vital information regarding a loved one’s diagnosis and treatment options. By keeping the goal of receiving quality healthcare and making it a priority, many future medical problems and confusion can be avoided. Education is the key to ensuring advocacy for your loved one.

The journey for family caregivers can be difficult when traveled alone; however, it does not have to be that hard. A caregiver should not have to make the journey alone. With assistance, education and support from others, the caregiver will finish the journey with learned experiences and memories, and a new sense of being.

Monica Ruehling 

Family Caregiver Program Coordinator

Lincoln Trail Area Agency on Aging