Family Caregiving Has Many Faces

By John Schall, CEO of the Caregiver Action Network
October 30, 2013

“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 heavy 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 – with 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 living in another state.

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 has 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.

That's why CAN built a website ( that allows family caregivers to access information, tools and educational materials based on the type of caregiving they are providing. We tailored 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.

CAN also has resources tailored to specific conditions (such as cancer and Alzheimer’s) and to specific caregiver needs (such as Financial Planning, Managing Medications, and Caregiver Depression). We have an online Forum for caregivers to express themselves and ask questions of other caregivers. And we provide peer-to-peer support for caregivers to talk one-on-one with caregiving experts.

CAN also partners with organizations like the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) who are applying their own considerable expertise and cutting edge technology to addressing caregiving issues. PFCD will be hosting Innovative Support Programs for Cancer Patients and Caregivers on Thursday, November 14, please join us.

November is National Family Caregiver Month and I encourage you to acknowledge, celebrate and support all of those in your life who take on this complex role. Together, we can make the many tasks of family caregiving just a little easier.

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.