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Views: Caregiving can be stressful for family, friends, neighbors

November is National Family Caregivers Month in honor of the 44 million Americans who volunteer to support a family member, friend or neighbor with their health or in managing a disability.

In 2014, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP surveyed 1,248 U.S. family caregivers, individuals age 18 and older who provide unpaid care to an adult or child.

The National Alliance for Caregiving is a nonprofit coalition of national organizations that helps advance family caregiving, and the AARP is the country’s largest nonprofit organization advocating for Americans age 50 and older. The survey findings are noted in a joint report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015,” which finds that among the U.S. caregivers interviewed:

• 60 percent of caregivers are female; 40 percent are male.

• 56 percent of caregivers work full time; 25 percent work part time.

• Caregivers invest 24.4 hours a week in helping with activities such as bathing, dressing, housework and managing finances.

• 38 percent note the demands of caregiving exact high emotional stress.

As enriching as caring for another can be, at times, family caregivers can feel strained emotionally and financially.

Economic impact
of family caregiving

Unpaid caregiving for a family member or other loved one creates a ripple effect on personal finances. Caregivers of older adults and adults with disabilities often face significant financial stress from out-of-pocket costs and long-term effects on savings and retirement accounts.

The “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015” report states that more than half of today’s caregivers of someone age 50 or older are employed full time (57 percent), and 15 percent work between 30 and 39 hours a week. Thirty-six percent of the caregivers listed moderate to high levels of financial strain. Some 60 percent of the caregivers said they have had at least one change to their employment because of caregiving, such as reducing their work hours, taking a leave of absence, using up vacation and personal days, and taking a less-demanding job.

The caregiving survey also discovered that less than a quarter of employers offer employee assistance programs or telecommuting options for their workers. Out-of-pocket spending on goods and services on behalf of the care recipient adds up, too, including meals, transportation, medical/pharmaceutical copays, clothing, medical supplies, legal fees and home modifications. Overall, financial strain for family caregivers leaves the caregivers at risk for reduced wages and retirement and Social Security benefits, and inconsistent savings for their own future.

Emotional impact
of family caregiving

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tracks the health and wellness of Americans and notes a number of signs and symptoms of emotional stress of family caregivers, including:

• Feeling alone, isolated or deserted by others.

• Feeling overwhelmed.

• Feeling worried or sad.

• Feeling tired.

• Losing interest in once-enjoyable activities.

• Flaring with irritation or anger.

“Caregiving in the U.S. 2015” reports that four in 10 caregivers of someone age 50 and above described their caregiving as highly stressful; 26 percent of caregivers reported that they experience moderate stress. Caregivers of loved ones with chronic or long-term conditions or caregivers who live with their care recipient face higher levels of emotional strain. In addition, emotional stress elevates when caregiving continues beyond a year or the caregiver feels they had a lack of choice in becoming a caregiver.

Support resources for family caregivers

Taking steps to counter the financial and emotional strain of caregiving helps both the caregiver and loved one enjoy better health and time together. The following are support resources for family caregivers:

• Home care services for personal care, meal preparation, housekeeping, companionship, etc.

• Home health care services for skilled nursing care, physical therapy, etc.

• Adult day programs.

• Financial counseling and tax credits for caregiving.

• Caregiver support groups.

• Veterans assistance.

For nationwide and local support services for caregivers and adult care recipients, contact:

• National Association of Area Agencies on Aging – n4a.org, 202-872-0888

• Caregiver Action Network – caregiveraction.org, 202-454-3970

• Hospice Foundation of America – hospicefoundation.org, 800-854-3402

• Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – cms.gov, 800-Medicare (800-633-4227)

• National Alliance for Caregiving – caregiving.org, 301-718-8444

• Eldercare Locator – eldercare.acl.gov, 800-677-1116

• National Institute on Aging – nia.nih.gov, 800-222-2225

Beth Lueders is an award-winning journalist, author, writer and speaker. This article also appeared on the Right At Home blog at www.rightathome.net. Right at Home is a nonmedical supportive care home service agency.

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