|Caregivers are everywhere, with almost 40 million of them or one in six Americans over the age of 15 providing some form of support for an older adult, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics / Photo by: Dmitrii Shironosov via 123RF|
Caregivers are everywhere, with almost 40 million of them or one in six Americans over the age of 15 providing some form of support for an older adult, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It added that on any given day, one quarter of these caregivers are caring for a parent, spouse, relative, or friend. Despite the fact that the demands of caregiving can be overwhelming and challenging, it is also rewarding for both the caregiver and the person being taken care of.
Who Are Caregivers?
A caregiver is a person who takes care of or looks after a child, the sick, elderly, or disabled person—those with chronic illnesses or cognitive impairment. Normally, we think that there is a difference between an adult or even a child who visits an elderly parent once or twice a month to do certain tasks versus those who live with and assist parents in bathing and going to the restroom or providing other basic needs. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, no matter what the arrangements are, both are considered as family caregivers; a biological parent raising their child is also a caregiver. But the idea of a caregiver encompasses a scope of activities and responsibilities far more than just taking care of a child.
The profile of a caregiver in the United States consists more of women, roughly 60% of the total population of caregivers. More than half of caregivers in the US are between the ages of 45 to 64, with 8 million or around 20% between the ages of 15 and 34, and 9 million aged 65 or older. These caregivers are known to care for their parents or grandparents. They make up 60% of the population being cared for by caregivers. Only 7% are spouses or partners taking care of their loved ones when they become physically or cognitively impaired, with two-thirds in this scenario aged 80 and older.
|A caregiver is a person who takes care of or looks after a child, the sick, elderly, or disabled person—those with chronic illnesses or cognitive impairment / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF|
Caregivers do a variety of tasks, whether they are able and experienced to do this or not. As stated by the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), an organization leading national and global efforts to analyze policy and advance the needs of caregivers, common caregiving tasks include clinical care and everyday hygiene functions. More than 96% of activities done by caregivers involve help with activities of daily living. On average, caregivers spend 13 days each month on tasks such as shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, and giving medication. They spend six days each month on feeding, dressing, grooming, walking, bathing, and assisting their wards in the toilet. Additionally, they spend 13 hours researching care services and information on diseases, coordinating medical appointments and visits, and managing financial matters. About 46% of them perform medical and nursing tasks.
As the age of the person cared for as well as the caregiver’s goes up, the number of hours dedicated to caregiving also increases. Caregivers aged 15 to 24 years old spend an average of 14.8 hours on caregiving, 25 to 44 with 19.3 hours, 45 to 54 with 25.8 hours, 65 to 74 with 30.7 hours, and 75 and above with 34.5 hours. The FCA explained that higher-hour caregivers have an average age of 51.8 years old while lower-hour caregivers average 48 years old. Older caregivers likely care for their spouse or partner, one-third of whom are reportedly in fair to poor health.
While caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, it also involves stressors especially because the role requires long-term investment and challenges, which can affect someone physically and emotionally. According to Health Guide, an online information source for mental health and wellness information, caregiving can be disheartening when there’s no hope that the family member or charge will get better. Its emotional impact can take a toll on health, relationships, and state of mind, leading to burnout, which refers to a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. If this stage is reached, both the caregiver and the one being cared for can suffer. Thus, a caregiver being conscious of their own health is a necessity too. Cultivating emotional and physical well-being is just as important to caregiving as making sure that the loved one goes to their doctor’s appointments, takes their medications on time, and gets lots of rest.
The FCA also shared that learning to manage stress and disappointment in caregiving includes accepting feelings of anger, fear, resentment, helplessness, and grief. Acknowledging and accepting doubts and misgivings doesn’t mean that the family member cared for is not loved, but that the caregiver is human too. It is therefore important to deal with these feelings by talking about them rather than keeping them bottled up. Caregivers should confide in someone they trust, one who would not interrupt or judge.
While attending to a loved one’s need gives life its significance and meaning, being distracted, burnt out, or overwhelmed will hinder the connection with the person being cared for. It’s vital not to forget the caregiver’s needs as well.