Did you know that nearly 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid (informal) care each year for adult family members, friends or neighbors with chronic illnesses or conditions?
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, female family caregivers provide over 75% of caregiving support in the United States. The duties of family caregiving can vary, depending on the health concerns or issues those in your care are experiencing.
Nearly 16 million family caregivers in America provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia. The 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures report notes that those unpaid family members care efforts translated into 18.6 billion hours of unpaid assistance. A contribution to the nation valued at $244 billion.
For some perspective; that $244 billion value is 11 times greater than the total revenue of McDonald’s earning in 2018 ($21 billion).
Unsung Family Heroes
Family caregivers manage a host of responsibilities for those in their care. A few examples may be:
- Buying groceries, preparing meals, doing laundry, cleaning house
- Helping with dressing, bathing and medication administration
- Making medical appointments, speaking with doctors, purchasing medications
- Managing finances, paying bills and coordinating additional supportive services
Additionally, not all family caregivers live down the street from those in their care. A percentage of family caregivers are long distance. (more than one hour away). This can be emotionally and logistically challenging as these folks are often unable to manage day-to-day tasks but are gathering information about available resources, coordinating resources, and establishing a ‘team’ of other family members, neighbors, etc. to meet the recipients’ immediate care needs.
Admitting you are a Family Caregiver
It’s one thing to manage a short-term health crisis. But, it takes a different set of skills to provide prolonged care over a longer period of time. It’s not uncommon for ‘new’ caregivers to become quickly overwhelmed.
The first step is to admit and acknowledge that ‘Yes, I am a family caregiver’. Embracing the title and the role will give you a good jumping-off point, as you search for resources to guide your caregiving efforts.
Keep in mind; Family Caregivers also maintain other roles & responsibilities. They may work full or part-time jobs in addition to their care duties. They could have young children, be active volunteers in their area or have any number of other family commitments that can easily lead to frustration and exhaustion as they try and juggle all the demands of caregiving.
Simply navigating the challenging healthcare system, social services options and other possible resources is strenuous as you seek to coordinate efforts.
Heartfelt Thanks for Family Caregivers!
While caregivers can be found across the age spectrum, the majority of family caregivers are middle-aged (35-64 years old) and are employed in non-caregiving positions/careers.
Look around your friend and family ‘circle-of-influence’, chances are high that you’ve got folks in your network already providing some level of family caregiving. Someday soon, you may be asked to pitch in and assist a member of your own immediate or extended family.
Family caregiving is the backbone of the long-term care system in the United States.
For those of you observing friends, family or neighbors delivering caregiving services; consider sharing a token of appreciation. During this month of ample gift-giving opportunities; here are a few suggestions for the family caregiver in your network:
- Pamper them with a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure or massage
- A home-cooked meal that you deliver or a meal-delivery service membership to ease their planning and preparation burdens
- A gift basket with all their favorite ‘comfort items’ like a seasonal specialty food or beverage, favorite movies or music, blankets, slippers, fuzzy socks or loungewear
- A ‘Get-Out-and-About’ coupon – wherein you offer to stay with their loved one, while they get a day off from their care duties
With the 65+ age group expected to double to 70 million in the next ten years; family caregiving will continue to be a value-added necessity. Find ways to be kind to those family caregivers already in your network.
Acknowledge their efforts and offer support when you can. Your small gestures have an immeasurable impact on the overall well-being of those folks who often don’t take a pause to take care of themselves, because they are focused on caring for others.