For millions of Americans, being a family caregiver often comes with a price: discounting one’s own health, finances and personal needs.
November is National Family Caregivers Month in honor of the 44 million Americans who volunteer to support a family member, friend or neighbor with their health or in managing a disability.
In 2014 the National Alliance for Caregiving — a nonprofit coalition of national organizations that helps advance family caregiving — and AARP surveyed 1,248 U.S. family caregivers, individuals age 18 and older who provide unpaid care to an adult or child.
The survey findings are noted in a joint report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015,” which states that among the U.S. caregivers interviewed:
•82 percent care for one adult; 81 percent of primary caregivers live within 20 minutes of their care recipient.
•60 percent of caregivers are female; 40 percent are male.
•56 percent of caregivers work full-time; 25 percent work part-time.
•Caregivers invest 24.4 hours per week in helping with activities such as bathing, dressing, housework and managing finances.
•38 percent note the demands of caregiving exact high emotional stress.
Rewards and Challenges of Family Caregiving
Offering support to a loved one who needs help is replete with positive and rewarding experiences such as stronger communication, relationship connections and personal satisfaction in making a tangible difference in a loved one’s life.
Yet as enriching as caring for another can be, at times family caregivers can feel overwhelmed and exhausted. If care needs increase or the length of the illness stretches into several months or years, informal caregivers are vulnerable to common stress-related conditions including headaches and sleep deprivation.
“Some symptoms of caregiver stress are more noticeable such as fatigue and body aches, but we need to stay aware of the possible emotional and financial strain to family caregivers, too,” said Doug Dickstein, President of Right at Home in Burbank.
In a caregiver survey released in June 2017, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reported, “At any given point, 6 percent of adult children serve as caregivers, and 17 percent will take on this role at some point in their lives. Those who do provide care devote an average of 77 hours per month, which can take a toll on both the finances and health of the caregiver.”
Economic Impact of Family Caregiving
Unpaid caregiving for a family member or other loved one creates a ripple effect on personal finances. Caregivers of older adults and adults with disabilities often face significant financial strain from out-of-pocket costs and long-term effects on savings and retirement accounts.
The “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015” report states that more than half of today’s caregivers of someone age 50 or older are employed full-time (57 percent), and another 15 percent work between 30 and 39 hours a week. On average, these caregivers who are employed work 34.8 hours a week. Thirty-six percent of these caregivers listed moderate to high levels of financial strain.
“Many of these dedicated men and women are continually making tough choices as they earn an income to help support their own families and provide care for their loved one,” Dickstein explained. “Since in most states family leave is unpaid, the financial pressure can mount for employed caregivers who are squeezed between work and caregiving duties.”
“Caregiving in the U.S. 2015″also discovered that less than a quarter of employers offer employee assistance programs or telecommuting options for their workers. Out-of-pocket spending on goods and services on behalf of the care recipient adds up, too, including meals, transportation, medical/pharmaceutical copays, clothing, medical supplies, legal fees and home modifications.
Emotional Impact of Family Caregiving
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services tracks the health and wellness of Americans and notes a number of signs and symptoms of emotional stress of family caregivers, including:
•Feeling alone, isolated or deserted by others.
•Feeling worried or sad.
•Losing interest in once-enjoyable activities.
•Flaring with irritation or anger.
Over time, caregiver stress can significantly compromise one’s health. Among family caregivers, anxiety and depression are more likely to affect women than men, and left unchecked can weaken the immune system and lead to other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
“Caring for a loved one at home is never meant to be an isolated experience,” Dickstein said. “Every caregiver can benefit from accepting help from other family members and community resources. The extra support may be getting assistance with meals and housekeeping, seeking regular respite care, or planning ahead for possible crisis care.
“It’s encouraging to know that many of us equipped to help are just a quick phone call away.”
Dickstein suggests the following support resources for family caregivers.
For nationwide and local support services for caregivers and adult care recipients, contact:
•National Association of Area Agencies on Aging -n4a.org,202-872-0888
•Caregiver Action Network – caregiveraction.org, 202-454-3970
•Hospice Foundation of America – hospicefoundation.org, 800-854-3402
•Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – cms.gov, 800-Medicare (800-633-4227)
•National Alliance for Caregiving – caregiving.org, 301-718-8444
•Eldercare Locator – eldercare.acl.gov, 800-677-1116
•National Institute on Aging – nia.nih.gov, 800-222-2225