Peter Rosenberger: 65 million caregivers need our help -- Here's what first responders, clergy and you can do

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Here's a quote that sums up what serving as a family caregiver can feel like  “…looking both ways at an intersection, and getting hit by a plane!”

Our caregivers are hardly the stereotyped smiling, uniformed women pushing the elderly in the park. Our family caregivers are a weary and often overlooked army orbiting every type of chronic impairment. Trauma, disease (including addiction), disorders, and mental illness—look closely, and you’ll see a caregiver. With no respect for race, religion, gender, or economy, caregiving affects all demographics (even children).

And they rarely visit parks.

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We all have a stake in appreciating caregivers, because if we love someone—we’ll probably be a caregiver. If we live long enough, we’ll need one.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to know how to show appreciation to this unpaid and mostly untrained workforce of 65 million Americans.

Caregivers themselves struggle with identifying their own needs, and are often reticent to express their feelings in light of a loved one’s challenges.

We all have a stake in appreciating caregivers, because if we love someone—we’ll probably be a caregiver. If we live long enough, we’ll need one.

Yet they desire to feel seen, valued, and less fearful.  While caregivers’ loved ones can’t always address those needs, others can—and here are specific ways to express appreciation to them:

For politicians promoting “Medicare for All” or other health care plans, keep in mind that family caregivers help bolster the health care industry by annually providing nearly $500 billion of unpaid labor.

Whatever health care plan America accepts, work to include respite care. Also, try navigating Medicare’s bureaucracy to untangle a dispute—while not missing work and simultaneously caring for a disabled loved one. Doing so better equips you to express appreciation for a family caregiver.

For medical personnel insisting patients arrive early for appointments only to wait for ridiculous timeframes—the patients’ and caregivers’ time is no less valuable.

Additionally, when expecting caregivers to perform complex medical tasks at home, be patient and provide ample training. They may be too embarrassed to ask, so ensure they properly decipher prescriptions and notes.

Furthermore, validate the physical toll on caregivers and inquire whether they see a physician for themselves. Doing so shows appreciation for caregivers.

For drug manufacturers and pharmacists filling behavior-altering drugs, clearly explain the behavior impact of those medications. Although the opioid crisis receives ample coverage, few address how opioids affect caregivers. Recommending counseling/12-step recovery groups shows appreciation for caregivers.

For firearm organizations, please consider that many caregivers don’t know how to safely handle weapons belonging to an impaired loved one. Teach them.

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Furthermore, develop campaigns directed to burned-out and fearful caregivers tempted to take the life of their loved one …and then turn the gun on themselves. This is happening. Getting out in front of this issue and saving lives shows appreciation for caregivers.

For law enforcement called to homes of addicts, alcoholics, or the mentally ill, reinforce the importance of caregivers seeking treatment for themselves. Law enforcement visited Parkland shooter, Nickolas Cruz’s home 39 times over six years. Sometimes, a caregiver is society’s last line of defense. Pointing overwhelmed caregivers to physical and emotional safety shows appreciation for caregivers.

For school officials working with families of special needs children, continue developing ways to lessen feelings of fear and inadequacy of those parents. Empowering and encouraging parents of special needs students shows appreciation for caregivers.

For the clergy of caregivers struggling to comprehend a loving God who seems absent in their heartache, comfort them. When visiting the hospital or hospice, talk privately with the one standing in the corner. Learn to recognize the identity loss of caregivers who struggle to speak in the first person singular.

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Furthermore, don’t assume caregivers’ challenges end at a funeral—caregivers can often suffer residual trauma and guilt. Engaging them through the lengthy healing process shows appreciation for caregivers.

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For family and friends unsure of how to help a caregiver, try quietly saying, “I see you, and see the magnitude of what you carry …and I hurt with you.” Opportunities to assist will unfold, but simple acknowledgment shows appreciation for caregivers.

Lastly, caregivers can appreciate themselves. Caregivers’ failures can loom large and cause hearts to sink with guilt. For those caregivers harshly judging their job performance, be fair by also judging yourself on your flawless attendance record.