How to Avoid the Oncoming 'Caregiver Cliff'

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I watched my father-in-law take his last breath.

Since midsummer, my husband and I had been caring for his father, who was 83 and had lung cancer. A nurse working for the hospice company had warned us that we might not have much more time with him.
I had feared that a business trip would keep me from being there. I arrived home an hour and half before he passed away.

He waited for me. I believe that was his gift to me -- to be able to have closure. I'm so grateful that I was with him, along with my husband and the long-term care aide who gave so much of herself during the last year of his life.

You probably didn't know that November is National Caregivers Month. And you probably didn't know because there aren't any big celebrations to mark the occasion. No, the 65 million people who give their time and money to care for sick or disabled relatives, most of them elderly, do so in relative obscurity.

Following one of my more difficult moments caring for my father-in-law, a friend sent me a link to a public service announcement created by the Ad Council and AARP. You can find it on YouTube. Search for "Caregiving: Ad Council PSA -- Silent Scream." The 
32-second video captures caregivers silently screaming from the frustrations, paperwork and money issues that come with the job. I cried while watching it. Still the ad made me feel better knowing that I wasn't alone or wrong in wanting to let my emotions show.

"Family caregivers are really a natural treasure," said John Schall, chief executive of the National Family Caregivers Association.

The association began promoting the celebration of family caregivers in 1994. One of the pressing concerns facing our leaders is rising health-care costs, especially for sick, disabled and elderly citizens.

Immediately following the election, talk turned to the "fiscal cliff" -- expiring tax cuts and major across-the-board federal spending cuts -- facing the nation. But there's another looming crisis, the "caregiver cliff." Caregivers are taking time off from work, and thus risking their jobs, or tapping into their limited resources to provide care. They are stressed and often neglect their own health needs.

Consider these statistics collected from various studies by the National Family Caregivers Association:


Source: Washington Post 

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or singletarym@washpost.com. 
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