Each day, courageous individuals step forward to help care for family members in need, their quiet acts of selflessness and sacrifice telling a story of love and devotion. Across our country parents and children, siblings and spouses, friends and neighbors heroically give of themselves to support those in their lives affected by illness, injury, and disability. It is estimated that today there are 90 million family caregivers in the U.S.
- Two out of every 5 adults are family caregivers. 39% of all adult Americans are caring for a loved one who is sick or disabled-up from 30% in 2010.
- Alzheimer’s is driving the numbers up. More than 15 million family caregivers are providing care to more than 5 million loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Not only the elderly need caregiving. The number of parents caring for children with special needs is increasing too, due to the rise in cases of many childhood conditions.
- Wounded vets require family caregivers. As many as one million Americans are caring in their homes for service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other wounds and illnesses.
- Not just women are doing the caregiving. Men are now almost as likely to say they are family caregivers as women. 37% are men and 40% are women. And 36% of younger Americans between ages 18 and 29 are family caregivers, including one million young people who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s.
- Family caregiving is serious work. Almost half of family caregivers perform complex medical and nursing tasks, such as managing multiple medications, providing wound care, and operating specialized medical equipment. Yet, most receive little or no training for these duties.
- Family caregivers are the backbone of the Nation’s long-term care system. Family caregivers provide $450 billion worth of unpaid care each year. That’s more than the total Medicaid funding and twice as much as home care and nursing home services combined.
Many of these dedicated people work full-time and raise children of their own while also caring for the needs of other loved ones. They rely on workplace flexibility and the contributions of those around them to help ease their lives.
Here are some ways we can help families who have caregiving needs: offer to stay with a loved one while the caregiver takes a much-needed break; ask if you can prepare a meal and deliver it to them. You might even consider preparing a holiday meal so that the family can enjoy the day without all the added stress of food preparation. Offer to do a load of laundry. Why not! Together offering anything to a caregiver is our way to recognize who they are.
And what better way to honor America’s family caregivers than to hear their thoughts in their own words. I choose to call it THE CAREGIVER’S WISDOM:
“You will need the patience of a saint, the mind of a doctor and the strength of Hercules.” –Ron, GA
“You cannot even imagine what caregiving is like until you do it. Nothing can prepare you. “–Sue, ID
Of all the challenges facing caregivers, I believe the gift of time is the most important. When I got into the silent job of caregiving, I had no idea how all encompassing and exhausting it would be. When you are told to take care of yourself, they mean it, even 5 minutes a day. ASK for help, farm out things, let some things go, take people up on their offers or even if they don’t offer, ask for help. In the end, you will be more effective for your loved ones. –Jane, CA
As I journey through this “caregiving” valley, I’ve learned through many caregiving classes that taking care of myself is of the utmost importance and caregiving is something I do, not who I am. Who I am is alive and well and still smiling in spite of what is happening around me. There are things I have learned on this caregiving journey that I would not have learned otherwise, so I am grateful for this opportunity to be a full-time caregiver to my mom. –Maria, NH
If you are a caregiver or know a family member or friend who is a caregiver, first give them a big hug. After the big hug, encourage her or him to check out the AARP Caregiving Resource Center at www.aarp.org/caregiving. It provides a wealth of information.
Remember not only during November, but every month to recognize those who place service before self. We must offer them the same comfort, social engagement, and stability that they bring to others. We must remind them that they are not alone.
Written by Elaine D Harris
Last Updated 9/1/16