In honor of Labor Day this week, it’s only fitting to take a few moments to acknowledge the men and women who dedicate their lives and careers to caring for older adults – those who choose this path as a profession, and those who are called to become caregivers when their loved ones need them.

It’s also fitting that this week a nationwide report gave Minnesota high marks as a leader in providing care and services for older adults. A lot of factors must be in place to ensure a strong system of care and support for seniors – good information, access to a range of support services and care settings, flexibility and innovation in how services are delivered and public policies and investments to keep our system strong.

However, even with all of these elements in place, there is one thing that rises to the very top: the front-line caregivers – paid and unpaid – who provide daily care and support for our loved ones.

For those who are not direct caregivers, it’s easy to lose sight of what it really means to care for someone who can no longer take care of themselves. What it means to help with the most intimate daily activities of bathing, dressing and eating, or tending to complex medical needs. It’s physically demanding. It’s emotionally draining. It can be very stressful and sometimes frustrating.

And yet – it’s one of the most rewarding and honorable positions in our health care system. Despite the demands of this role, I’ve heard countless caregivers say the reason they’ve built a career in this field is because it is an honor to be there for someone when they really need it. To provide encouragement and empowerment to help someone else achieve their goals and truly live their life to the very end.

At the Aging Services board meeting earlier this summer, Dan Dixon, president and CEO of Guardian Angels of Elk River, provided a reflection that opened up our first day of work. He talked of volunteering in his own hospice program. One day, after visiting the same man for many weeks, something happened – as Dan was leaving the room after a short visit, the man called out to him. He asked if Dan would sit and say a prayer with him. In that moment near the end of this man’s life, Dan said he was reminded of the powerful impact caregivers have on those they serve.

In some of the most challenging times of our lives, caregivers have the honor of providing support, encouragement, comfort and happiness. This week, we honor those people and thank you for the difference you make every day!

Is there a caregiver you’d like to honor? Tell us about them in the comments section. Better yet – nominate them for an Aging Services Award!

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