(BPT) - No one knows exactly what life will bring, but we all know that there will be joys and there will be challenges. Sometimes, life gives you a combination - as millions of average Americans who are family caregivers can attest. Providing dedicated care to a loved one is a generous way to live one's life, but it can also brings difficulties, stress and isolation. That's why giving back to those unsung heroes - caregivers - who give so much can make a world of difference to them, and the people they help.
It's not unusual for non-professional caregivers to insist that they don't need a break or a pat on the back. Recognizing their sacrifices, even in small ways, can help them understand the importance of their work. Also giving these caregivers a little time to themselves can help them recharge, ultimately allowing them to take even better care of their loved ones.
If you know a family member, friend or neighbor who is a non-professional family caregiver, consider these ways to give them the recognition and help they deserve.
* Arrange a relaxing day off. Many caregivers are members of the 'sandwich generation' which takes care of their children as well as an elderly or disabled family member. Looking after everyone else can easily eat up all of a caregiver's time. So give the caregiver you know a 'free day' that is just about them. Arrange a massage, a trip to a museum, a sporting event, favorite restaurant or park - whatever they will enjoy most. Then arrange for respite care so they know their loved one is well cared for while they're away.
* Consider making a BRAVE Awards nomination. The Shire BRAVE Awards honor the courage and devotion of non-professional caregivers around the world. These annual awards celebrate the amazing commitment of unsung, everyday heroes - non-professional caregivers. Many BRAVE Award recipients provide care over years and decades, overcoming incredible challenges to ensure that their loved ones have everything they need to live as full and rewarding a life as possible. Nominations for the 2013 BRAVE Awards are open through June 30, 2013 and award recipients selected each receive $10,000. For more information, visit www.shirebraveawards.com.
* Offer to help with the little things. There are countless small tasks we all have to finish every day, but for caregivers, that 'to do' list can be extra long and overwhelming. Offer to assist with a regular chore, like making dinner, mowing the lawn, picking up prescriptions or putting out the garbage, and you'll be taking away some of the stress. Even if you can't lend a hand on a regular basis, let the caregiver know to call on you when he or she needs help. Having others to rely on can help make caregivers feel that they're not alone.
* An old-fashioned 'thank you.' A simple word of encouragement, when unexpected, can have a big effect. A handwritten note only takes a little time, but has a far-reaching impact. Add a small treat, such as a photo or a gift card, and you will surely brighten the caregiver's day.
Caregivers dedicate themselves to helping others without expecting recognition or thanks, but that makes them all the more deserving of both. By lending a hand, nominating them for an award or offering a few kind words, you'll be giving them a bit of well-earned care, too.