Did you know that November is National Family Caregiver’s Month?  According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, each year 65 million people care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend.  Annually, Americans are encouraged to thank, support, education, and celebrate these millions of caregivers throughout the country.

In 1994, the Caregiver Action Network (CAN; formerly the National Family Caregivers Association) began promoting the celebration of family caregivers during the week of Thanksgiving.  President Clinton signed the first presidential proclamation in 1997 and every president since has issued an annual proclamation appreciating family caregivers.  As interest grew in family caregiving issues, National Family Caregivers Week evolved to National Family Caregivers Month, held each November.

 “This nationally recognized month is a time to draw attention to the many challenges that family caregivers face, to advocate for stronger public policy to address family caregiving issues, and to raise awareness about community programs that are available to support family caregivers,” stated Jessica Rosenzweig Gruber, Executive Director for SAGE Eldercare in Summit.  

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“Being a caregiver takes work, requires patience, giving, and lots of effort.  At times it can be rewarding and at other times it can be a frustrating and thankless job; no matter what situation you are in, SAGE is available to support these everyday heroes,” Gruber added.

During the month, as well as throughout the entire year, SAGE provides programming and a wide variety of services to complement individual caregiving efforts.  One of the everyday programs that assist caregivers is the Spend-A-Day Adult Day Health Center, which operates Monday through Friday from 9:30 am to 4 pm to provide a day of social, recreational and physical activities in a medically-supervised group setting, allowing caregivers to obtain the respite they need to care for themselves. 

Other programs that support caregivers are the Meals On Wheels program, which delivers a hot and cold meal mid-day Monday to Friday to local older adults, the Grocery Shopping and Errand Service, which supports caregivers on a weekly basis, and the Bill Paying Service, which can be arranged on an as-needed basis.

Caregivers can sometimes feel alone and overwhelmed, which is why support groups are an important means of reducing stress and learning problem-solving and coping skills from someone else who is facing similar concerns.  SAGE hosts two support group meetings on a monthly basis, which provides an opportunity for caregivers to receive emotional support and confidently share problems, as well as solutions, so they can be more effective in their care.

First, the P.R.E.P. (People Responsible for Elderly Persons) support group meets at 7 pm on the third Wednesday of each month and often features a guest speaker.  This month, on November 20, Susan Canocico, RD, Summit Medical Group, will be discussing “Nutrition for the Caregiver.”  Second, the Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Support Group meets at 10 am on the fourth Tuesday of every month.  The group provides an opportunity for family members and caregivers to discuss the challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia disorder with others who are facing similar issues.  Both meetings are free and open to the public. 

Being a family caregiver is one of those life changes that can occur suddenly and without warning, or it can evolve slowly over time.  When these family roles shift because of the needs of a loved one, it is important to find a way to embrace, or at least accept, change.  Sometimes this means turning to a professional for assistance, either in the form of hiring a home health aide or talking to someone about care planning options.  If you are a caregiver who has reached a crossroad or are caring for someone who is going through a life transition, then SAGE can help provide guidance and care planning through its GPS (Guidance, Planning and Support) Services.

“Caregivers are special, important people and are often giving to others at the expense of caring for themselves.  As we go about our busy lives this month, try to reach out and thank caregivers who have taken on this challenging role,” Gruber emphasized.

Founded in 1954, SAGE is a unique community resource that offers a comprehensive array of programs and services for older adults and caregivers, promoting independence and quality of life.  The nonprofit organization serves 7,000 people throughout Union, Essex, Morris and Somerset Counties, as well as across the United States.  For more information on programs and services, call 908.273.5550 or visit www.sageeldercare.org.