Unpaid caregivers - usually family or friends - provide the bulk of long-term care services in the U.S. The economic value of that care is in the billions, even though caregivers are often forced to pass up promotions or take leave with out pay because of their caregiving responsibilities.
- 65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged.
- Caregiver services were valued at $450 billion per year in 2009- up from $375 billion in year 2007.
- More women than men are caregivers: an estimated 66% of caregivers are female. One-third (34%) take care of two or more people, and the average age of a female caregiver is 48.0.
- More than one in six Americans working full or part time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend. Caregivers working at least 15 hours per week said it significantly affected their worklife.
Source: Family Caregiver Alliance Selected Statistics
Why become a caregiver?
Being the primary caregiver for another person is one of the most challenging roles a person can accept. There are daily demands on the caregiver`s time, patience, physical and emotional health.
Still, family members and friends choose to become caregivers for many reasons:
- Payback: When elderly parents need help, adult children feel it`s their chance to give back.
- Work: Some family members and friends can become paid caregivers for their loved ones, allowing them to earn an income for caregiving.
- Love: Spouses and significant others provide care for each other after sharing a lifetime of experiences, raising families and intimacy.
If you are a caregiver, it`s important to identify yourself as such, not as simply a spouse, son or daughter doing what is expected. Studies show that most family caregivers become more proactive about seeking resources and skills after they have self-identified.
Eight-three percent of self-identified family caregivers believe their self awareness led to increased confidence when talking to healthcare professionals about their loved one`s care.
Source: National Family Caregivers Association, Survey of Self-Identified Family Caregivers, 2001.
Emotional impact of caregiving
Caregiving is emotionally demanding. Some days you`ll feel like you really made a difference in someone`s life. Others, you`ll feel useless and unappreciated.
- Satisfaction from providing high-quality care for a loved one and being able to reciprocate what that person has given to you
- Love that often grows stronger through the closeness experienced during caregiving
- Compassion shown through a desire to alleviate suffering
- Resentment from sacrificing time to tend to a loved one`s needs or from lack of support from other family members
- Sadness due to changes in your relationship with a loved one
- Helplessness due to the inability to improve your loved one`s life or health
- Guilt due to believing that the care you provide is not adequate or from having negative feelings about the situation
Burnout occurs when the caregiving situation becomes too difficult (physically and/or mentally) for the caregiver. This is a very serious situation. In fact, one-third of all nursing home admissions occur because of caregiver burn-out.
There are many symptoms of caregiver burn-out including the following:
- Disrupted sleep patterns (insomnia, oversleeping, dreams or nightmares)
- Increased intake of sugar, alcohol or drugs
- Increased smoking
- Frequent headaches or back pain
- Fear and/or anxiety
- Overreacting to common accidents or to criticism
- Feeling emotionally withdrawn or trapped
- Not being able to feel joy
- Loss of compassion
- Thinking of "running away"
- Neglecting or mistreating the care recipient
- Loss of hope and meaning
- Thinking of suicide as a way to escape
It is normal for caregivers to have some of these thoughts or feelings every once in a while, but if they occur regularly, you should recognize the need for some type of change in the caregiving situation.
There are many tactics to help avoid the overload that can lead to burnout. Mental health experts offer the following suggestions for caregivers:
- set limits on what you can do and decide what tasks can be delegated to others
- schedule "time out" for yourself
- list things you need for self-care such as exercise, a bubble bath, reading or taking a nap
- arrange for home care services
- plan for respite care
- be pro-active when problems occur by contacting physicians, family members, or friends who can help
- make time for fun, laughter and time with friends
- keep your life in perspective
- join a support group and feel comforted knowing you are not alone
- talk to a professional
- openly discuss your plans with family members and friends
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