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Family caregivers deserve our thanks

November is National Family Caregivers Month. It is a nationally recognized month that seeks to draw attention to the many challenges facing family caregivers, advocate for stronger public policy to address family caregiving issues and raise awareness about community programs that support family caregivers.

It is a time to thank, support, educate and celebrate more than 50 million family caregivers across the country and the approximately 336,000 here in Oregon. The reality for each of us is that we are already a caregiver or will be a caregiver, or at some future date may be cared for by a loved one or a professional provider.

While many caregivers will tell you that their role as a caregiver is rewarding, they will also tell you caregiving is not for the weak-kneed or faint-hearted. These are some important facts to know about family caregivers:

*Approximately 80 percent of homecare services are provided by family caregivers.

* 69 percent of intensive caregivers have suffered from prolonged depression.

*Fewer caregivers seek prompt medical attention for their own problems.

*78 percent of caregivers feel their own physical and emotional health suffered as a result of the intense demands of their caregiving role.

* Every year U.S. companies lose $11.4 to $29 billion due to work schedule adjustments and employee health issues associated with caregiving.

Caregiver stress also affects the individual receiving care. Frail elderly people and children with disabilities experience a higher rate of abuse and neglect. Stressed caregivers are also more likely to seek out-of-home alternatives for the family member. An occasional break, or respite, for the extraordinary demands of providing ongoing care strengthens the stability of families and caregivers.

Respite provides families and caregivers the relief they need to stay healthy. It helps families continue to provide at-home care for a loved one and stay together.

There are 26 counties in the state of Oregon that offer respite care services through the HB 2013. This bill was designed to ensure caregivers have access to respite care services by developing and supporting community-based Lifespan respite care networks. This bill recognized that Oregon's most important and constant care providers for individuals with special needs - of all ages are families.

One of the goals of HB 2013 is to increase community involvement by developing diverse partnerships that include family caregivers, providers, faith communities, local, county and state agencies, nonprofit organizations and community volunteers.

No one agency can possibly meet the needs of all caregivers. That is why it is very important for all of us to recognize November as National Family Caregivers Month. Caregiving is a community issue and a real opportunity to strengthen and build community ties and resources.

If you know of someone who is a caregiver, take the time to ask them how they are doing, what they need and how you might help and be prepared to follow-through with offer.

If you are a caregiver, know that you are not alone. There are resources available to assist you.

First, remember it is important you ask for help when you need it, before a situation reaches a crisis. In addition, remember it is possible to 'thrive as a caregiver, not just survive.'

Let us all give thanks for the family caregivers in our midst who each day silently go about caring for their loved ones. Let us also remember to provide them with a sense of community and caring.

Mary Ann Hard is the Clackamas County Program Coordinator for the Lifespan Respite Care and Family Caregivers Support Program. She can be reached at 503-650-5724.