This week’s Thanksgiving holiday marks the official arrival of the holiday season. For the next few weeks, people will gather with friends and family to visit and reconnect. And this holiday season will likely look a bit more normal than the holiday season of 2020, as many people avoided large gatherings and travel. While it’s, of course, great to be with loved ones and enjoy time together, the holiday season is also an opportunity to observe the state of our family members and relatives, particularly aging adults. It’s a chance to take mental notes on how parents and grandparents are changing, their overall function level, the status of their health, and how they are really doing. And since November is National Family Caregivers Month, if you begin to notice signs that it may be time to consider some degree of caregiving for your parent or grandparent this season, it’s important to know that there are resources available close to home to help you adapt to that role.
“More than twenty years ago, Blount Memorial Hospital established a community outreach program for senior adults and their caregivers,” said Blount Memorial Senior Services coordinator and licensed clinical social worker Edward Harper. “Then-CEO Joe Dawson, nurse administrator Joan Jackson and the executive team approved the Senior Services program to assist – at no charge – any caregiver or senior adult who requested help with individual-based support and resources through educational consultations, regardless of the individual’s geographic location,” he said. “This simple program of family consultations, support groups and educational seminars immediately took root among adults giving care to other adults. The response to this offer of care in our community was vastly underestimated. As word of mouth spread that Blount Memorial was offering these opportunities, the requests have been steady and consistent every day since the year 2000,” Harper added.
“For the most part, unless they are assisting someone with a severely limiting condition, caregivers tend to go unnoticed,” Harper continued. “The daily caregiver blends into the fabric of everyday society. Yet, in their heads, the anxiety, concerns and logistics of quietly giving care are ever-present. The emotional impact on caregivers is beyond measure. Most of the time, they’re simultaneously also trying to take care of themselves and their own day-to-day lives. We all know it is impossible to be in more than one place at a time physically, but it is just as impossible to be in more than one place at a time emotionally,” he said. “The mission these caregivers pursue is one without a blueprint or a time-frame, but they endure,” he added.
Harper says there also are outside elements that can affect caregiving dynamics. “Family patterns, finances, geographic locations and a person’s employment status all can influence the dynamics of giving care,” he said. “Overcoming these influences requires adaptation, and adaptation does not come without consequence. It often results in lots of sacrifices, including harm to the caregiver’s own health, mood, relationships and sense of hope,” Harper added.
Because of this, Harper says, caregivers need care, too. “Being able to support a caregiver first requires noticing and becoming more aware of their sacrifices,” he said. “If you are able to volunteer with a service that provides support services for caregivers, such as transportation, home repair, security checks and well-being checks, that can be a great benefit to them. And it’s also worth remembering that during our lives, we all will either receive care or give care – or both – to one degree or another,” he added.
Blount Memorial offers numerous resources for family caregivers and aging adults, including a free Caregiver Support Group, led by Harper, that meets the first and third Tuesday of each month from 10-11 a.m. at Vienna Coffee House in Maryville. Harper also meets with caregivers in free, one-on-one caregiver consultations in his office on the Blount Memorial Hospital campus. For more information, call 865-977-5744.