Columns Opinion Your Views — 18 November 2011

A family caregiver myself, I was honored when asked to write an article in recognition of November as National Family Caregivers Month. One in five adults in the United States provides unpaid financial, physical or emotional support to a family member or friend older than 50.

Estimates show the United States has approximately 28.8 million caregivers and they provide more than 30 billion hours of care each year. According to conservative estimates, the economic value of unpaid, informal care friends and family provide nationwide is $306 billion per year.

MaryAnn Griffin

When caregiving demands intensify, caregivers take leaves of absence from their paid jobs, reduce their work hours or quit entirely. These decisions take a heavy financial toll. In a study of employers, more than two-thirds reported staffing problems related to an increase in caregiving in the past 10 years. Yet 40 percent had no plan in place to assist employees who are caregivers. This lack of planning costs American businesses dearly.

Since my target audience is you — my fellow busy caregivers — I’ll get straight to the point: There is assistance available in Alexandria you probably haven’t heard of, and I want to convince you to reach out for help. You may be thinking, “Yes, but that’s for other people. I can manage caring for my family member and don’t need any help.” Or maybe you’re saying, “Sure, but it’s not that simple: My situation and loved one’s needs are unique — no one else could really understand.”

Believe me, I have said and felt all of these things. Eventually, however, I decided to accept a helping hand in caring for my mom — and I’m happy I did. I elected to participate in a support group at the Alexandria Adult Day Center for those who have loved ones with dementia or physical impairment.

In the group, members treated me (and my mom) as infinitely special, and because our stories were more similar than different, the group members really could understand me.

And because they understood, they could offer me compassion, acceptance, helpful advice and useful resources. By taking advantage of the caregiver support group, I gained far more than I expected, and I recognized the power of accepting help.

The City of Alexandria has services that offer similar help, hope and support. Many options are available, and many are free or low-cost and can give you much-needed relief and support. These include help with transportation to doctor’s visits; daytime programs, like the Alexandria Adult Day Center, to provide you a break from caregiving; meals on wheels; in-home care options; and legal services.  The city’s division of aging and adult services is available to answer questions and to offer advice and resources at 703-746-5999.

These services are provided because our community recognizes the needs of family caregivers. Perhaps there is something that can help you that you haven’t heard of before. During this month designated for honoring what you do as a caregiver, honor yourself by reaching out and accepting a helping hand.

The writer is director of the Alexandria Office of Aging and Adult Services.

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