It's frightening to imagine a world without doctors and nurses. There's no doubt that these medical professionals are absolutely necessary for society to function. However, there are other people who contribute greatly to the health care culture of the United States, and many of these individuals go unrecognized. Some of them may not even be aware of the role they are taking on. Family caregivers are an essential part of the American health care system, but the tasks they face are by no means simple.
The issues they face
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there were 6.57 million caregivers in America in 2009. To put that in perspective, it's about 29 percent of the total U.S. population. Most of these caregivers are providing aid for someone over the age of 50, and 14.9 million are caring for individuals who are living with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
In a recent article for the New York Daily News, pastor Gregory Johnston of Manhattan writes about the unique issues that these caregivers face. Family caregivers often work for free, meaning that they must juggle a second job or else delve into their own savings to make ends meet. Typically, family caregivers have received little to no medical training, which only makes their daily tasks more difficult and stressful.
"Caregivers often feel isolated, sacrificing careers and relationships to look after the family, friends, children and adults in their charge," Johnston wrote. "Often, they feel they must choose between caring for a loved one and doing almost anything else. Many feel lost and alone. Taking care of someone else is as difficult as it is satisfying and necessary."
He goes on to say that the first step to successful caregiving is to acknowledge that you've taken on the role. This will allow family members to acknowledge the need for self-care - before you can be a provider for a loved one, you must make sure your own needs are met.
Help for family caregivers
There are resources available for people who are fulfilling this difficult role. Home care agencies can help ease the burden for individuals who feel overwhelmed with the tasks they face day to day. These medically trained individuals can assist with more complex tasks, allowing family caregivers to focus on the more personal needs of their loved ones, such as socialization, transportation needs and day-to-day chores.