National organizations and community and advocacy groups across the country are observing National Family Caregivers Month in November. National Family Caregivers Month was created by presidential proclamation to call attention to the challenges facing family caregivers, and to raise awareness about programs to support them.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 52 million family members, friends, partners, and neighbors in the US care for their chronically ill or disabled loved ones. A study from the AARP calculates that the economic value of the services family caregivers provide for "free" is estimated between $350 and $375 billion yearly in the US.
The AARP also notes that “The unpaid services family caregivers provide are not without cost to caregivers and society. Lost time at work, lost benefits, and declining health can add to the emotional and physical strain of caring for a loved one. The study underscores the need to better support family caregivers through programs that provide respite (a break from caring), tax credits, information, and other supports.”
“This year we are encouraging people to speak up during National Family Caregivers Month,” said Suzanne Mintz, president and CEO of the National Family Caregivers Association, of November’s awareness activities. “One of the most important attributes of being an advocate for your loved one is the willingness and the ability to speak up and keep your eye on the ultimate goal, protecting not only the health and safety of your loved ones, but your own as well.”
Around the country, ALS caregivers such as Kathy Thompson of Virginia Beach, are coming up with their own projects to support awareness this month. Thompson, who cares for her son, put together the “Hopes and Dreams Quilt Challenge for ALS”, which is designed to “warm the hearts and laps of ALS patients” (see the full story here). The ALS Quilt Challenge is receiving quilt submissions for ALS awareness. The winning submissions will be auctioned off, and the proceeds donated to the ALS Association in support of research. Quilts that are not offered for purchase will be donated to people and families living with ALS.
In its own campaign to recognize caregivers, the ALS Association (ALSA) is encouraging caregivers to voice their concerns about their own health as well as the people who live with their assistance. ALSA is also setting up a series of profiles, to be exhibited on its website for the duration of National Family Caregivers Month.
To the CALS who give so generously of their time and energy, thank you for all that you do.
--by Meghan Kallman