Caregivers are people of any age that take responsibility for the care of loved ones when they are elderly, chronically ill, physically or mentally disabled, facing addiction or otherwise impaired.
Since caregiving is primarily based on a person’s willingness to care for loved ones, people in our community often shoulder responsibility in silence, seeking little support for themselves. Family caregivers represent a large and sometimes unspoken for segment of the American Population. Today, approximately 46 million Americans are providing care for an adult relative or friend (Source 1). There are over 16 million family caregivers taking care of disabled children (Source. 2) , and 2.7 million grandparents caring for children under the age of 18 (Source 3). There are even as many as 1.4 million young adult caregivers providing primary care for their grandparents or other elder relatives (Source 4).
Currently, there are many individuals and groups petitioning for government recognition and support for family caregivers, and with good reason. The economic value of care provided by family caregivers is estimated at over $300 billion a year, which is more than 2x the nationwide spending on nursing homes and paid home care services combined. (Source 1). Unpaid family caregivers tend to suffer loss of wages and perceive their own health status to be lower than if they weren’t responsible for the care of a loved one, which often combines both physical and emotional strain on the caregiver. This can be exacerbated when the family caregiver has not chosen to be the primary caregiver, but are taking up an undesired responsibility, in reality, which is true in the case of some adult and young adult caregivers. The stress of the responsibility can force a caregiver to unwillingly limit their careers, education, decline promotions or neglect their own wellness in other ways.
As a family wellness advocate and patient advocate I agree that more should be done to assist family caregivers at a federal and statewide level with the physical and emotional task of caregiving. More attention should be given to this important role publicly so that family caregivers will not suffer in silence, and can improve their own health, mental and financial wellness.
Understanding options,and sharing helpful information within the community is one way local organizations can assist families in decision-making, as well as with finding the health and wellness support to make life flow smoothly for those in need of care and caregivers alike.
Currently there are some online communities specifically for caregivers, social supports and patient advocacy resources to help caregivers through everyday life and tough times as well.
Caregivers should review the many websites listed on this blog for more information and support for their role as family caregiver.