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“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.” – Rosalynn Carter

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of family caregivers. There are more than 53 million Americans who are unpaid caregivers to family, friends, and neighbors, andaccording to the Tennessee Commission on Aging & Disability, one million caregivers in Tennessee, the majority of which are women over 45 years of age caring for someone 75 years or older.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, feelings of stress, worry, and isolation have become familiar to a lot of us. Being a family caregiver is difficult in the best of circumstances, and the pandemic has brought on even more challenges than before. The stress caused by the role can have a huge impact on a family caregiver’s mental health, potentially leading to depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and anxiety,” said Grace Sutherland Smith, Council on Aging (COA) of Middle Tennessee’s executive director. “Supporting caregivers with the information and resources they need can help them maintain their own mental health in order to better care for their loved ones.”

Caregivers work long days and spend countless hours to meet and anticipate the needs of their loved ones, often facing challenges that can seem impossible to navigate. Everyday tasks such as maintaining households, errands, medical appointments, transportation, meal preparation, and companionship can consume significant time and effort, especially when caregivers must balance these duties with the pressures and responsibilities of their own lives. More than six in 10 caregivers are employed, including nearly half who work full time.

All year long, COA serves older adults, caregivers and communities by addressing unmet needs through information, advocacy and education. As a nonprofit organization and trusted community resource, COA offers several free resources to support caregivers including Aging & Caring: A Guide for Families & Caregivers©, The Directory of Services©, and personalized decision support tool, Roobrik. COA also has a free Helpline at 615-353-4235 to connect callers with services and resources within its Middle Tennessee service area that includes: Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Williamson and Wilson. The organization is also showcasing short videos on their Facebook page to offer support on topics such as having hard conversations and making care decisions, grandparent caregivers, aging well at home, affording in-home care, caring from a distance, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, avoiding isolation and maintaining good health for caregivers.

Spring Hill, Tennessee resident Loretta Brank MacKeever recently shared with us her personal experience with caregiving. “When I took my elderly father into my home to care for him as his Alzheimer’s progressed, I had no plan. Didn’t know where to start. I turned to COA many times for answers and they always came through. It didn’t matter if I thought it was a stupid question, I always felt comfortable asking anything. They hooked me up with adult day services, Meals on Wheels, FiftyForward, and encouraged me to seek help from the VA. When you are the sole caregiver of a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s, you become very isolated and feel alone. I am thankful there are agencies like Council on Aging to assist with compassion and caring. Aging is challenging, unpredictable and inevitable. Aging is also beautiful, enlightening and a privilege.”

Family caregivers provide a vital lifeline of connection and hope to loved ones. These caregivers, who devote immeasurable time, energy and resources, need our understanding, support, gratitude and encouragement. Throughout the month, let us recognize and celebrate those who care selflessly for the ones they love.

Visit coamidtn.org for more information, to view our online resources or to request printed copies.