It’s important to acknowledge the designation of November as National Family Caregivers Month. Family caregivers are the relatives, friends, or neighbors who provide assistance often related to an underlying physical or mental disability.
Family caregivers make it possible for many to stay in their homes, and often assist with the essential activities of daily living (ADLs) like dressing, bathing, meal preparation and money management. Most often, these are unpaid people who have no formal training to provide those services.
A 2015 AARP Public Policy Report, authored by Reinhard, Feinberg, Choula & Houser, indicates there were about 40 million family caregivers in the United States, providing roughly 37 billion hours of care in 2013. Their economic value exceeded $470 billion that same year.
It is projected that nearly one in five United States citizens will be 65 years of age or older by the year 2030. By 2050 this older population is expected to double in size. The need for family caregivers will only increase accordingly.
Family caregivers are my primary clients; they are looking after the needs of spouses, parents, and even siblings. They may have other jobs, but still they prepare meals, balance checkbooks, pay bills, manage laundry, shovel snow and fill pill-boxes for those they love. It is exhausting work, and it is often dismissed as “just looking in” on those who could not manage their lives without this amazing service.
If you are a family caregiver (as I am), we celebrate you this month. If you know a family caregiver, I encourage you to honor them in some way this month – even a verbal acknowledgment is more than they ordinarily receive for all their effort.
I have a friend who wisely reminded me that,“Each of us is either in need of a caregiver, serving as a caregiver or one event, accident, or illness away from requiring a caregiver in our lives!” This is not a circumstance that any of us can completely avoid.
In that same AARP Public Policy Report, we are reminded that “Family caregiving today is more complex, costly, stressful and demanding than at any time in history.” These words, written before the pandemic, should today, after three years of quarantines, social distancing, vaccinations, and challenges in accessing medical services probably be written in bold type and underlined (those additives are mine!).
Now, more than ever, family caregivers are in need of strategies to make their lives easier, their caregiving work simpler and their support resources more responsive and available. For me, this always boils down to strong self-care practices that honor the needs of those who serve and acknowledge their persistent levels of stress.
Family caregiving impacts many aspects of life for these caregivers. . .
- Family caregivers experience an impact on their work lives. One recent analysis finds that more than 8 in 10 (83%) people in their peak working years (ages 51–54 years) are at risk of taking care of their parents or parents-in-law with long-term service/support needs. For those nearing retirement (ages 60–69 years), more than 4 in 10 (45%) face a risk of providing parent care (Butrica & Karamcheva, 2018). This often leads to retirement well ahead of plan, and loss of wages for years at their highest earnings.
- Family caregivers experience an impact on their emotional well-being. A substantial body of research, summarized by the APA in 2012, has examined the impact of caregiving on the psychological and physical health of family caregivers. Findings from their Stress in America survey show that those who serve as family caregivers to older relatives report higher levels of stress and poorer health than the population at large. More than half (55%) of caregivers surveyed said that they felt overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs.
If you are struggling with your role as a family caregiver, please know that this is who I serve. There are paths to a healthier future and strategies you can use to make your labor of love a more manageable, meaningful pursuit. I’m here to help if you’re looking for caregiver coaching.
If you know someone struggling under the burden of their family caregiver role, please encourage them to find help – either from a social service agency, a therapist or counselor, a health care provider or, perhaps a health & wellness coach.