The perfect gift for caregivers is: a) a massage, b) dinner out, or c) night at the movies? They’re excellent choices, but last week I got something better than all three combined. Have you ever considered taking Family Medical Leave to give a caregiver a break? I’m so grateful that my sister did that for me.
If you work in a business that has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile area you may be eligible to take time off to help with family caregiving. In some cases, the employee on leave is allowed to use paid sick days or vacation time so they can collect salary during the leave. Obviously, retaining your regular salary makes it a lot easier to take leave and help a family member. You may have to go through an approval process to ensure that happens.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was approved in 1993 and the legislation explains conditions required for eligibility. For example, an employee “must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and worked at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.”
Many people still think of FMLA as a provision for women on maternity leave or fathers helping with care of a newborn. But leave can be approved for other reasons, too. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a list of situations covered by family leave:
- The birth of a son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care;
- To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition;
- For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or
- For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.
In my family’s case, we had to provide my sister’s employer with medical verification of my mother’s serious health condition (dementia). This documentation was obtained from a doctor who’s treated my mom for many years. Once the paperwork was completed, we worked out the dates for her leave.
A few days respite from #caregiving was the perfect gift for me. I had time to visit friends and take care of neglected business matters. One afternoon I even had the luxury of visiting Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation with a friend from college. During those few hours, I felt like I was back at school again, seeing new things with a curious, well-rested mind.
People who haven’t been a #caregiver may not realize how this responsibility shapes, absorbs, and sometimes overwhelms our thinking. Even a short break helps us rediscover our interests and regain a sense of balance. Mother’s Day is almost here. Could you provide this kind of gift to someone in your family? Is there anyone you can ask to do it for you?
“Caregiver, Heal Thyself!”…. it’s at twist on the biblical adage and my motto for 2016. We are the first line of defense for our loved ones. But too often we get injured or run down and fail to care for our health.
Warm winter = thin ice
In 2015, I suffered a dislocated shoulder, chronic lower back strain, and plenty of wrist pain. Early in the year I got a mysterious skin infection which went away after I was treated with anti-biotics. My doctor suspected that I contracted MRSA from my mom. He didn’t reveal his theory until it healed because he knew I would panic. After the infection disappeared, he explained that many older people who have spent time in a hospital, residential care, a rehabilitation center, or a nursing home will carry the MRSA bacteria. They can bring it home and transmit it through skin-to-skin contact. My little scar still reminds me of this extremely painful episode.
If we stay aware of our health problems, we can do more about them. For years I’ve used yoga as a tool for healing muscular pain as soon as I notice it. I have a subscription to an online service called YogaGlo. I’m not sure this would work for #caregivers who have never taken a #yoga class. However, if you have a yoga studio nearby, you can get some basic instruction first. Yoga is a tremendous aid for maintaining your health. YogaGlo costs $18 a month and can use the service from a computer, iPad, or smart phone — or all three. If you get your TV reception through a ROKU box like I do, you can also watch it on your TV. Cable subscriptions and satellites are too expensive. Since we rarely have time to watch TV, we like ROKU much better.
Online exercise channels are great for caregivers, especially if your loved one needs 24 hour care like my mom does. When you’re feeling worn down, you can choose a session to start healing a specific body part without ever leaving the house. My online yoga classes are as short as 5 minutes — or as long as two hours. I try to do a 20 minute class before I lift my mom out of bed in the morning. It makes me much more limber and it warms up my shoulder before I stress it again.
I don’t know why we get so careless with our health. Most of us know the terrible statistics about caregiver illnesses. These items, quoted from Caregiver.org should scare you a little:
- Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments (including acid reflux, headaches, and pain/aching), increased tendency to develop serious illness, and have high levels of obesity and bodily pain.
- Studies demonstrate that caregivers have diminished immune response, which leads to frequent infection and increased risk of cancers.
- Caregivers exhibit exaggerated cardiovascular responses to stressful conditions which put them at greater risk than non-caregivers for the development of cardiovascular syndromes such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
I can’t bear to mention any more. We know this job is hard and we know it hurts. But we must remind ourselves that we also have choices about how we treat our bodies. Make 2016 the year when you make #caregiver health a priority.