As the calendar turns to November, we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month – an opportunity for communities across the country to come together to support and recognize the contributions and sacrifices made on a daily basis by family caregivers of all ages. Family caregivers are the heart and soul of our nation’s long-term care system. They represent an estimated 80 percent of the long-term care in the United States provided by family and other unpaid caregivers. Their support allows countless older adults and people with disabilities to remain fully engaged in their communities. Just as families pull together to support their loved ones during times of need, states and communities across the country can also recognize and support the incredible work done every day by family caregivers.
As an example, last week I had the privilege of addressing the TERRIFIC, Inc. and the DC Office on Aging 2018 Caregiving Conference. The theme of the conference – “You are not alone – You Matter! We’re With You!” underscores many facets of the family caregiving experience. Indeed – family caregivers are not alone. It is estimated that nearly 44 million adults provide care for an adult or child, annually. Additionally, the help they provide has real worth, with one estimate placing the value of the care they provide at approximately $470 billion dollars. Lastly – and importantly – the theme emphasizes the power of community and the sense of belonging we can feel with those of us who share similar experiences.
The DC Office on Aging and TERRIFIC, Inc. are part of the “aging services network” – a group of state government agencies, area agencies on aging and thousands of local service provider agencies and volunteers that deliver a range of services and supports to older adults and their family caregivers. Fundamental to the mission of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) is to enable people with disabilities and older adults to live in their communities and to provide opportunities to fully participate. Supporting families and family caregivers is central to that mission and I am so proud of the programs and services administered by the aging services network each day. Programs like the National Family Caregiver Support Program and the Lifespan Respite Care Program are helping to make essential services like information, assistance and respite available to families. They also provide opportunities for caregivers to take a break from their daily responsibilities. Similarly, the grants made available by the Alzheimer’s Disease Program Initiative are using the power of research to improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias and their family caregivers.
This year, as we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month, I encourage family caregivers to learn about and connect to the services and supports available in their communities. It is essential that family caregivers take care of their own health, ask for help if they need it, and, whenever possible, take a break from their caregiving responsibilities. Knowing what supports are available and where to access them is the first step and the ACL-funded Eldercare Locator and its newly created “Family Caregiver Corner” is available to assist. For more than 25 years, the knowledgeable and caring staff at the Locator have helped countless families access the supports they need.
Although the journey of caregiving can be challenging, the programs and services available through the aging and disability services networks are there to inform, assist and support, and to help family caregivers in their commitment to caring for their loved ones.