According to the 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. report, an estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months. Who are these caregivers? What do they do? What are the effects of caregiving and how they can be supported?
Caregivers can be anyone - spouses, adult children, parents, siblings, neighbors, friends. Anyone who helps someone carry out the tasks of daily living, frequently enabling them to live more independently. Most people are or will be caregivers at some point in their lives. Statistics about who typical caregivers are can be found in the Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 report. But how do you know if you are a caregiver?
Caregiving responsibilities vary greatly, depending on the situation. For parents of a disabled child, caregiving is intense, hands on care from the moment of birth, with tasks and responsibilities changing as the child grows into adulthood. For a person caring for an older adult, caregiving frequently starts slowly with things like daily phone calls to check up on the person, helping with housecleaning, laundry and shopping. This grows into helping with medical appointments, medication management, dressing, grooming and even helping with medical procedures. It can start with just a few hours a week and turn into a second "job." Siblings are often left "in charge" while parents are at work, or into their adult life as they have developed a strong relationship with the person needing care. In all cases, caregivers do whatever is necessary to help their loved one live and thrive.
While caring for a loved one can be rewarding it can also have negative impacts on a person. Caregivers often place priority on the person they are caring for and let their own physical and mental health decline. They do whatever they feel is neccessary to care for their loved one, often sacrificing their own needs. The 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. report gives a closer look at the effects of caregiving.
There is an array of ways caregivers need support to help them provide care and remain healthy themselves. Information, education, respite, home care, assistive devices, counseling and support groups are all important in supporting caregivers. When a caregiver is properly supported, placement in a long-term care facillity can be delayed.
Connecting with other caregivers about your caregiving experience can be a fun, therapeutic and helpful activity. Finding others in a similar situation who understand what life as a caregiver is like can relieve feelings of isolation that many caregivers experience. If you are willing, please share your caregiving story below!