SCARBOROUGH — Most everyone can say that they have been – or know someone who has been – a care partner. According to AARP, about 40 million family-care partners across the country provide over $470 billion a year in unpaid care to loved ones.

Dementia experts recently updated the term “caregiver,” shifting it to “care partner.” A care partner is someone who receives, as well as gives, care and affection, while assuring loved ones they are still vital. Care partners encourage positive decision making and contributions at each stage of the individual’s care.

At some point in our lives, we may assume the role of a care partner. Oftentimes, it’s under unexpected circumstances that may add further emotional and mental stress to the already physical demands of caring for a loved one.

As a care partner, you may be responsible for the physical care of your loved one and managing their day-to-day lives — from preparing meals and paying the bills to doing housekeeping and coordinating doctor visits — in addition to providing mental and emotional support.

It can be a difficult and emotional journey, and it’s very common for the care partner to put their own lives on hold to care for a loved one. Care partners need to care for themselves in order to be present for their loved ones. However, that’s easier said than done. It can feel like a demanding job that requires attention 24/7. The combination of loss, prolonged stress and physical demands may be difficult to manage.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, as well as National Care Partner Month, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting time to emphasize the importance of self-care for the care partner. Hospice care combines the highest level of quality medical care with the emotional and spiritual support that families and care partners need most when facing end of life. Hospice care and the role of care partners go hand in hand.

As pastoral coordinator at Hospice of Southern Maine, my role is to offer emotional and spiritual support to not only our patients, but also their family care partners. When I visit with patients, I encourage the family to take personal time for a mental break.

One simple way to do this is by taking a brisk walk or running a quick errand. These little breaks can go a long way.

Another important thing is to reach out to your community for support, which can be the hardest to do. For some, joining support groups is the best way to cope. For others, it’s reaching out to their close-knit group of friends for help.

Support groups can really help care partners find community with others going through a similar situation, who have similar feelings and frustrations. More importantly, they don’t have to feel alone.

Having a support system in place is one of the best ways for people to feel confident. It’s more important than ever during the holidays, when there seems to be pressure to keep up with the traditions of past family gatherings.

A researcher for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization recently found that care partners who trust in their personal values and rely on relationships in their support system have more confidence in their role and greater clarity to make the best decisions for their loved ones.

If you know a care partner, do not underestimate the impact of simple gestures, whether it’s shoveling their walkway, collecting their mail, bringing over a meal or providing respite so that they have some time to care for themselves. These small gestures can make all the difference for care partners.

If you are a care partner, remember that self-care is not selfish. The best thing you can do for your loved ones is to take care of yourself, because it is your strength they are relying upon in their most difficult stage of life.