More than 41 million people in the U.S. serve as unpaid caregivers to seniors, and that number is expected to grow as the population ages. In New Jersey, the number of people age 65 and up is projected to increase 48 percent, accounting for 20 percent of the Garden State’s residents by 2034 compared to less than 15 percent in 2014, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.  

Taking care of an aging or disabled loved one can take a toll, emotionally, physically and financially. November is National Family Caregivers Month, an annual observance honoring those who dedicate themselves to the care of relatives and close friends. It’s also a time for caregivers to take stock of their own wellbeing.

“Taking care of a parent or a partner who needs help with daily living often evokes positive feelings, but it can also cause tremendous stress, especially for people who are also raising young children,” said NewBridge Services Chief Operating Officer Michelle Borden, a licensed clinical social worker.

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Family caregivers provide physical, emotional and financial support to someone close to them with an illness or disability that prevents them from taking care of themselves. They may handle the grocery shopping, housework, meal preparation, medication management, bill paying, and personal care like helping the person shower and dress.

That’s a lot to take on. 

Evidence shows that family caregivers have higher rates of depression, anxiety and stress and have poorer physical health than non-caregivers, according to a 2016 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

There are ways caregivers can manage the responsibilities in a way that limits the negative impacts:

  • Recruit other family members to help with the care of a loved one, so no one person carries all the responsibility.
  • Get regular medical checkups and monitor your health.
  • Accept offers of help from your loved one’s social network and you own. 
  • Exercise regularly. Take three, 10-minute exercise breaks if you can’t find a half hour a day.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit your use of alcohol.
  • Do stress-reducing activities like yoga and meditation.
  • Keep up with hobbies.
  • Join a support group. The United Way of Northern New Jersey runs a Caregivers Coalition, with monthly meetings in Essex, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties. 
  • Look for signs of depression, and seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Bring in professional help if you’re overwhelmed.

NewBridge SAIL (NewBridge Senior Assistance for Independent Living) is free to Morris County residents 60 and over. The program connects seniors to local providers of services like senior day programs, home health aides, transportation, shopping assistance, nutrition programs, legal counseling, medication management, home repairs, and hospice care. It also can arrange respite care for caregivers.

Rose D. was at wits end trying to care for her ailing husband by herself. A stroke followed by the serious complications from diabetes and Parkinson’s disease left him with little mobility, vision loss in one eye, and depression.

NewBridge SAIL arranged for a home health aide to care for Rose’s husband several days a week, and for a nurse to visit weekly. She and her husband enrolled in NewBridge@Home, a weekly in-home counseling program for homebound seniors. When Rose became ill, NewBridge SAIL arranged for a home health aide for her too.

“NewBridge has been like family,” the longtime Morris County resident said. “I don’t know where I’d be without them, I really don’t.”

Friends and relatives can also play a role in supporting caregivers, Borden said.

  • Prepare her a special meal, cooking enough for leftovers.
  • Offer to fill in for a few hours.
  • Plan an outing with her and arrange for someone trustworthy to provide care for her loved one.
  • Watch for signs of depression and recommend professional help if needed. 

More Resources

Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care runs the Care2Caregivers helpline for people who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The peer counselors who answer calls can relate: they have cared for a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s and have worked professionally with patients with dementia. The number is: 800-424-2494.

The National Alliance for Caregiving is an excellent resource for caregivers, and provides links to other organizations that can help. The Family Caregiver Alliance has an extensive learning center that provides tips, facts and webinars on caregiving.

If you or someone you love needs help, call (973) 316-9333 or visit newbridge.org.

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About NewBridge 

NewBridge Services, a 501c(3) nonprofit, is a premier provider of counseling services, housing and educational programs in northern New Jersey serving more than 8,000 adults and seniors last year alone. NewBridge treats mental illnesses and addictions; teaches skills for coping with stress, grief and challenging relationships; builds and manages affordable housing; offers school-based programs that teach children and adolescents resiliency skills for healthy emotional development; helps young adults succeed in their education and prepare for careers; and supports seniors so they can remain independent. Throughout its more than 55-year history, NewBridge has remained true to its mission of bringing balance to people’s lives by tracking shifts in communities’ needs and providing innovative, effective programs to meet them.