Do You Know a Family Caregiver?

05/24/2011 01:09 pm ET | Updated Jul 24, 2011

The modern family faces new challenges and pressure points: the elderly are living longer, but not necessarily healthier, healthcare costs have risen dramatically, budgets are tighter and our children are living at home longer. These trends are placing an inordinate amount of stress on adult daughters and sons. They have been labeled the "sandwich generation," and rightly so. They are stuck between raising kids, providing in-home care for a loved one and managing a career.

I recently had lunch with a colleague from New York who, during her 40s, provided live-in care for her mother and father for two years prior to her father's passing, all while raising a teenaged son and serving as senior editor at Parade magazine. Fran also has type 2 diabetes. And she is tireless, currently serving as a spokeswoman for the Diabetes Foundation

Fran said, "I did fit the profile of the adult daughter, sandwich generation gal, but for the longest time didn't label myself a family caregiver. I was just doing what I thought was right, without a playbook."

Fran didn't reach out beyond her inner circle for help. If she had done so, she would have likely known about our organization, National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). We have resources and information that could have helped her better cope with the challenges that naturally come with the physically and emotionally draining role of a caregiver.

That's why I created NFCA. My husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 37 years ago, so I understand intimately the importance of having a trusted source for caregiving information and health care resources. It is NFCA's goal to ease the family caregiver's isolation, while advocating on their behalf to ensure that what they do is acknowledged and supported in Washington D.C.

In an effort to raise the collective awareness amongst family caregivers, NFCA has teamed up to co-sponsor Homewatch CareGivers' third annual National Family Caregiver award. Do you know a family caregiver who you think deserves some recognition for their efforts? Entry is open to any American citizen providing primary care to a loved one. The more inspirational the story, the better chances a nomination has of winning.

The 2011 award provides $10,000 cash to the winner, who agrees to share their story with the media and the caregiving world. Just reviewing the stories of last year's finalists provided our team with a rare view into the lives of seemingly ordinary Americans who are doing extraordinary things. These were not celebrity caregivers -- they were your neighbor, your colleague at the office or a friend from church.

Take last year's award winner, for example: Joyce Scott, 63, who has battled lung cancer since 2008 and Type 1 diabetes most of her adult life, all while caring for husband David, 68, a Navy veteran who has limited function of his legs and feet because of diabetes. He also has breathing difficulties related to asbestosis. Just helping her husband move from one place to another inside their home is a difficult chore for Joyce, who stands 5'0". David is 6'1" tall.

Joyce also cares for her brother, Russell Krulak, 52, who is crippled, unemployed and lives in a broken-down van after injuring his knee in a fall from a ladder and finding himself unemployed. She visits him daily to make sure he is safe and has something to eat. Joyce is trying to get him put on state-funded insurance so that he can get his knee fixed and start working again, but so far her efforts have been denied.

"It's important not to let yourself get down, to keep your spirits up, and to find something that gives you joy," she said after winning the award, for which she was nominated by her daughter, Heidi Moore. After the ceremony Joyce transferred her scholarship to Homewatch CareGivers University, which all award finalists receive, to Heidi. It is a gift, she said, that "makes perfect sense for my daughter."

"I want her to have the knowledge," she said. "She has shown an interest in caregiving as a career, and these classes will help her gain the necessary training to not only work professionally, but to assist me when I need care."

Scott was chosen as the national winner by an independent, 10-member health care industry panel and was selected from among 30 other semifinalists from around the United States. The 2011 panel with have some new additions, including a presence from NFCA, and I'm excited to get the nomination process rolling, which started May 16.

"Each of the nominees in 2010 had stories that all family caregivers can relate to -- how tough caregiving can be, but how absolutely necessary and valuable it is," said 2010 panelist and author Denise M. Brown, who also operates the website "Joyce Scott taught us that we all have the strength to face and make it through difficult times."

I think it is easy to understand why NFCA would choose to co-sponsor the National Family Caregiver award with Homewatch CareGivers. The partnership aligns two organizations that recognize the difficulties family caregivers face. This award honors their perseverance, and provides us a platform to share their resourceful, instructional and inspirational stories with the world, not to mention the difference the prize could make in someone's life.

Nominate a friend or family member for the 2011 National Family Caregiver of the Year award, by visiting Homewatch CareGivers website. Registration began May 16 and ends July 29. Finalists for the award will be announced in September, and the winner will be announced in October.

For each approved nomination for the award, Homewatch CareGivers is donating $5 to NFCA, so get those entries in!