There are more than 50 million caregivers in the United States and an estimated 256,000 in Kansas.
According to the National Family Caregivers Association, Kansans spend 275 million hours a year caring for relatives, neighbors and friends. The value of that care exceeds $2.4 billion.
Caregivers' biggest challenge is taking care of themselves. They are more at risk for infectious and chronic diseases such as heart problems and diabetes. Depression is twice as common among caregivers as noncaregivers. Deborah Halpern, spokeswoman for the association, has four messages:
1. Believe in yourself. Caregivers must believe that they are capable to do it themselves and that they the are best, most informed person for their loved one.
2. Protect their own health. If they don't, who will be there to care for their loved one?
3. Reach out for help. You cannot do it alone. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to recognize that and ask for help. Resources include friends, family, churches, community organizations and national agencies.
4. Speak up for your rights. You can't cower in the corner. You have to get needed information from family, doctors and community.
For more information, go to nfcacares.org; Douglas County's Project Lively at 843-3060, Kansas Advocates for Better Care at 842-3088; or Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging at (800) 798-1366.