More than 50 informal caregivers took a break from their responsibilities for a mix of education and fun at a caregiver conference hosted by Services Now for Adult Persons (SNAP) on Thursday, Nov. 16 at Bayside’s Marabella restaurant.
Held annually during National Family Caregivers Month, the event allows caregivers to connect with each other and receive much needed support. While many devote themselves to taking care of loved ones, the event stressed the importance of self-care to prevent burnout. Attendees were able to relate to each other’s ongoing struggles while also enjoying food and dancing.
According to experts, it is one of hardest times for caregivers with both everyday caretaking responsibilities and financial burden falling more on individual family members. That responsibility predominately falls on women, whether they’re wives or daughters to the person they care for.
According to data presented during the conference, 39% of caregivers are spouses and 34% are daughters, while sons make up 22%. The gender discrepancy was evident in the room with the vast majority of attendees being women.
“They’re kind of an overlooked population and even identifying as a caregiver, some people have difficulty with that,” said Michelle Ramos, director of SNAP’s caregiver program.
She added that the hesitance for some to identify as a caregiver stems from them downplaying the significance of their role, while others see it simply an obligation that was sprung upon them. For many, the responsibility showed up when they were gearing up to retire and threw off their plans to rest themselves.
Ben Weinstock, a clinical social worker from CAPE Mental Health Clinic under Commonpoint Queens, delivered a talk on self care that sought to break the self-imposed expectation of being a “perfect caregiver” and instead find peace with being a “good enough” caregiver.
“What I hope you guys see is that you’re not alone. This is an epidemic,” said Weinstock. “We’re seeing that, especially people over 65, there is a severe gap in what people need versus what they’re getting. Even if you don’t feel perfect. The people that you guys care for are doing better than most. They have you.”
Funding from the NYC Department of Aging allows the SNAP Queens Caregiver Program to reimburse caregivers for medical supplies, host education events, offer support groups and one-on-one counseling with social workers. They also offer a respite program that allows caregivers to request up to 80 hours of free caregiving services if they need to take a break for any reason.
“At first I didn’t think I was gonna like it, but I realized a lot of people were going through the same thing. I was thinking I was going through it alone,” said Jennifer Hunter, a caregiver for her sister Sonia, who received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2020. “And I’ve learned things I can do to make things a little bit better for myself and for my sister.”
She discovered the services the caregiver program offers shortly after she began to care of her sister full time which coincided with the pandemic and her own retirement from the workforce. This was her second time attending the conference.
The respite program has been particularly helpful for Jennifer to take some time off to run errands or treat herself. And it gives her sister Sonia the opportunity to talk and enjoy a walk with another caregiver.
“You’re gonna give them the same amount of care that you would do for yourself and there’s no perfect individual,” Tasha shared during the presentation. “At the end of the day, there’s only individuals trying to make the best of what they have. But it’s not an easy journey.”