November is National Family Caregivers Month, and Chatham County is not short of reasons — and people — to remember during the 30 days of November. The Chatham County Council on Aging says it has provided services to at least 177 caregivers since April 2015, and there are potentially more throughout a county that is expected to be the fourth oldest county in North Carolina by 2030 and was the eighth oldest in 2010.
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November is National Family Caregivers Month, and Chatham County is not short of reasons — and people — to remember during the 30 days of November.
The Chatham County Council on Aging says it has provided services to at least 177 caregivers since April 2015, and there are potentially more throughout a county that is expected to be the fourth oldest county in North Carolina by 2030 and was the eighth oldest in 2010.
Caregivers are people who, either full-time or part-time, literally give care to older loved ones who are suffering from various medical conditions like Alzeheimer’s disease or dementia, as well as children with special needs. And according to Susan Hardy, the family caregiver specialist at the COA’s Eatern Center, they need support as much as the family members or loved ones they serve.
“Caregiving is no easy task,” Hardy said. “We know that a caregiver must take care of themselves in order to take care of their loved one. Sadly, it is sometimes the case that the loved one outlives the caregiver because the caregiver does not take the time to take care of themselves.”
A 2018 report by the AARP (which used to be called the American Associaton of Retired Persons) said that more than half of North Carolinians aged 40 and older are current or former caregivers, while a higher number of survey respondents said they would likely be providing care in the future. The same report said the average caregiver is a woman aged 60.
Hardy said the majority of caregivers the COA serves in Chatham County are 60 years old or more, and even at that age, they do a lot of things.
“Often caregivers speak of how difficult the morning routine is,” Hardy said. “The routine of getting a loved one up, then bathing, dressing, feeding and administering their medications can be very exhausting for the caregiver. When a caregiver is asked when they would like to have an aide to assist in the home, most will usually choose the morning. However, some caregivers speak of how difficult their loved ones can be in the afternoon and evenings.”
This heavy burden faced by caregivers, Hardy said, is one of the reasons why providing services and solutions for Chatham’s caregivers was one of the Chatham County’s Aging Plan for 2018-2023’s five main goals. Some of the suggested resources include self-care classes, support groups and respite and involve reaching out to faith-based organizations and other potential partners.
One program is already in motion. Hardy said the R.E.S.T. for Caregivers — stands for Running Errands and Sleep Time — is currently projected to begin in April 2020. The COA is partnering with 13 community churches to provide four-hour blocks once a week for caregivers to take a break and find some “refuge,” as Hardy termed it.
Having those four hours a week would likely be helpful, as the average number of caregiving hours per week is more than 24, according to a 2016 report from the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities. The theme for the 2019 Family Caregivers Month, “Caregiving Around the Clock,” reflects that reality, something the Chatham County Board of Commissioners recognized in a resolution passed late last month.
“We are calling upon the people of Chatham County to join the Council on Aging in honoring and supporting family caregivers, not only in November but throughout the year,” board Chairman Mike Dasher said in a statement. “Families are the backbone of long-term care.”
Hardy said community members can help by directing caregivers they know to resources like the COA and volunteer for programs like R.E.S.T. for Caregivers. They can also simply take the time to get to know a caregiver and be a friend.
“People in the community can offer to run errands for caregivers,” Hardy said. “Caregivers often feel socially isolated, so ask if you can come by and visit. Get to know the caregivers in your neighborhood and become their friends and advocates.”
Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.