Caregiving: A Universal Occupation
Caregiving takes many forms. Many of us help older, sick, or disabled family members and friends every day. We know we are helping, but we don’t think of ourselves as caregivers. We are glad to do this and feel rewarded by it, but if the demands are heavy, over time we can also become exhausted and stressed. We think we should be able to handle caregiving roles on top of busy work and family schedules and begin to feel guilty and depressed as our stamina wanes.
About 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid, “informal” care each year for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses or conditions that prevent them from handling daily activities such as bathing, managing medications or preparing meals on their own. Family caregivers, particularly women, provide over 75% of caregiving support in the United States. In 2007, the estimated economic value of family caregivers’ unpaid contributions was at least $375 billion, which is how much it would cost to replace that care with paid services.
All of us, at some point in our lives. Caregivers are daughters, wives, husbands, sons, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, partners and friends. While some people receive care from paid caregivers, most rely on unpaid assistance from families, friends and neighbors.
Caregivers manage a wide range of responsibilities. In your family, for example, are you the person who:
- Buys groceries, cooks, cleans house or does laundry for someone who needs special help doing these things?
- Helps a family member get dressed, take a shower and take medicine?
- Helps with transferring someone in and out of bed, helps with physical therapy, injections, feeding tubes or other medical procedures?
- Makes medical appointments and drives to the doctor and drugstore?
- Talks with the doctors, care managers and others to understand what needs to be done?
- Spends time at work handling a crisis or making plans to help a family member who is sick?
- Is the designated “on-call” family member for problems?
In small doses, these jobs are manageable. But having to juggle competing caregiving demands with the demands of your own life on an ongoing basis can be quite a challenge. With the 65+ age group expected to double to 70 million people by 2030, family caregivers increasingly provide care for aging parents, siblings, and friends, most of whom have one or more chronic conditions and who wish to remain in their own homes and communities as they age. Others belong to the “sandwich generation,” caring for children and parents at the same time.
Caregiving roles and demands are impacted by a number of other factors. For some people, caregiving occurs gradually over time. For others, it can happen overnight. Caregivers may be full or part-time; live with their loved one or provide care from a distance.
Data from many studies and reports reveal the following information about caregivers:
- The “typical” U.S. caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who works outside the home nad spends more than 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother.
- Most caregivers are married or living with a partner.
- While caregivers can be found across the age span, the majority of caregivers are middle-aged (35-64 years old).
- Most caregivers are employed. Among caregivers age 50-64 years old, an estimated 60% are working full or part time.
- Many caregivers of older people are themselves elderly.
- Of those caring for someone aged 65+, the average age of caregivers is 63 years with one third of these craegivers in fair to poor health.
- Most caregivers live near people they care for. Eighty-three percent of caregivers care for relatives, with 24% living with the care recipient, 61% living up to one hour away, and 15% living 1-2 hours or more away.
Family caregivers are being asked to shoulder greater burdens for longer periods of time. In addition to more complex care, conflicting demands of jobs and family, increasingly economic pressure, and the physical and emotional demands of long-term caregiving can result in major health impacts on caregiving.
Overall, caregivers who experience the greatest emotional stress tend to be female. They are at risk for high levels of stress, frustration, anxiety, exhaustion and anger, depression, increased use of alcohol or other substances, reduced immune response, poor physical health and more chronic conditions, neglecting their own care and have higher mortality rates compared to noncaregivers.
In addition, most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support; yet more than one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffereing from poor health themselves. An influential factor in a caregiver’s decision to plan an impaired relative in a long-term care facility is the family caregiver’s own physical health.
With the dramatic aging of the population, we will be relying even more on families to provide care for their aging parents, relatives and friends for months and years at a time. Yet, the enormous pressures and risks of family caregiving are a reality of daily life for millions of American families and pose a great strain on family caregivers, many of whom are struggling to balance work and family responsibilities.
Families need information and their own support services to preserve their critical role as caregivers, but frequently they do not know where to turn for help. One place to start is the Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC). The ADRC can listen to your situation and help assess what type of assistance is needed. The professional staff can then talk to you about available services, supports or programs in your area. You will be given information on the service, support or program, what providers are in the area, the cost associated, as well as any financial assistance programs available to assist with the cost. Staff can come to the home to meet with you and your family. There are many resources available to assist you in this journey of caregiving and we are here to help you navigate them and find the ones that fit into your situation!
Call us today to discuss further! All our services are free and kept confidential. You can even call to get information anonymously!