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    The Many Faces of Caregiving

    By John Schall

    Caregiver Action Network

    John Schall is a public policy/communications professional with noted expertise in policy fields, including healthcare, labor, education, economic development, taxation, and budget policy. He became CEO of the Caregiver Action Network in June 2012. Prior to CAN, Mr. Schall was Deputy CEO of the Parkinson’s Action Network.

    “Mom had a stroke,” my sister’s voice was telling me over the phone.  At first, I did not quite comprehend the message.  My father was 93 years old and my mother was his caregiver, so bad news about my father might have been somewhat expected.  But my sister was telling me that it was my 80-year old mother who just had a stroke, not my 93-year old father. That was definitely unexpected.

    Instantly, I learned a couple of things about family caregiving.  One, that it is stressful – so stressful that it can take a large toll on the caregiver’s own health.  And two, that it can cause a chain reaction – because once the health of the caregiver has been affected,  someone else has to step in to take care of both the caregiver and the loved one they were caring for. So, caregiving shifted from my mother to the next generation — me and my siblings — most of us living hours away from our parents’ house. I was now one of those adult children trying to help care for their parents from afar:  I live in Washington, DC; my parents in Michigan.

    As fate would have it, ten months later I became CEO of the Caregiver Action Network (CAN).  I then quickly learned a couple of other interesting things about family caregiving:

    • I was not alone.  There are 65 million family caregivers — one out of every three adult Americans — caring for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of old age.
    • Caregiving wears many faces.  Family caregivers range from the parents of children with special needs, to the families and friends of wounded soldiers; from a young couple dealing with a diagnosis of MS, to adult children caring for parents with Alzheimer’s disease.

    Both of these points became clear to me my very first day on the job.  I was one kind of caregiver:  one who was new to caregiving and lived in another state.  My predecessor in my job was another kind of caregiver:  she has been caring for her husband with MS for decades.

    That’s why CAN built a new powerful website that allows family caregivers to access information, tools and educational materials based on the type of caregiving they are providing.  We tailored the resources to four profiles of caregivers:  1) those who are new to caregiving; 2) those who have been a caregiver for years; 3) those caregivers who have full-time jobs; and 4) those who are helping care for their loved ones from afar.

    Family caregiving really does wear many faces.

    The Caregiver Action Network (formerly the National Family Caregivers Association) is the nation’s leading non-profit family caregiver organization providing education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers across the country free of charge.  www.CaregiverAction.org

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