“There are 34.2 million caregivers, and on average, they’re looking after their parents at a rate of 25 hours a week,” says Mark Sabalauskas, Product Manager at Philips Lifeline. “A third of these caregivers have kids; most of them have jobs; and most of those jobs are full-time.”
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) report Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, 50 percent of caregivers report handling their duties solo, and 60 percent are female. On average, people can fill their caregiver roles for four years and spend $5,500 annually to support their loved one care recipient.
But money isn’t the only thing being spent. Between 2009 and 2015, caregivers saw an uptick in the amount of time they were on the clock, with the average jumping from 19 hours per week to roughly 25 hours per week. And 23 percent provide care for 41 hours or more each week — the equivalent of a full-time job.
“Caregivers often describe what they’re doing as either natural or just what they expect to do as part of their relationship,” says Sabalauskas. “They feel: ‘I was taken care of, and this is just the right thing to do.’”
Where Does All the Time Go?
Even on the low-end, 25 hours per week is quite a commitment. Here is how caregivers spend the time, according to the NAC report:
- 78 percent of family caregivers help provide transportation
- 76 percent help with grocery and other shopping
- 72 percent help with housework
- 61 percent prepare meals
- 57 percent assist with medical needs such as injections, tube feedings, and catheter and colostomy care
- 51 percent help with managing finances
- 46 percent help with medication management
It sounds like a lot of responsibility — and it is. Thirty-eight percent consider their caregiving situation highly stressful, according to the NAC report. “But the truth is that while a large percentage of caregivers report feeling overwhelmed or report being stressed by financial and time commitments, at the same time, others either don’t feel or acknowledge a burden,” says Sabalauskas. “People are stepping up to the plate.”
Common Caregiver Challenges
No matter how strong the bond between caregiver and cared-for, challenges and stressors are unavoidable.
A seismic emotional shift often occurs at the onset of this role reversal, explains Dan Hoffman, a clinical social worker and therapist who has counseled families through the stages of caregiving. “There’s a big adjustment period for the entire family when a functioning member starts losing some of their functionality, mentally or physically, and needs direct care,” Hoffman says.
Uncertainty about the well-being of a loved one can also be cause for concern. Sabalauskas elaborates: “Knowing whether or not a parent is okay, especially as the parent’s ability to self-manage declines over time, is a common concern. For many caregivers, the common experience of calling just to check in and catch up can become an anxious experience of calling multiple times during a day to check up and monitor their parent.”
When multiple family members are involved in the caregiving, as is the case roughly half the time, coordinating necessary tasks can be challenging, and lone caregivers can easily feel overwhelmed.
“The potential for resentment exists when all the work falls onto one set of shoulders,” Hoffman adds.
Lightening Caregivers’ Load Leads to Quality Time
While the role of caregiver often feels like an isolated one, even if you are sharing the burden with siblings and other family, there are a number of resources that can help:
- “If I were a caregiver, I would definitely reach out to the local Area Agency on Aging,” Sabalauskas says. “They’re an excellent resource in terms of finding specific programs and support services available in your community. These support services exist so that seniors can live with dignity and independence in the communities and the homes they love.”
- Geriatric case workers — typically social workers with a focus on geriatrics and families — can provide guidance and insight from a neutral vantage point.
- The Philips Lifeline website is another valuable resource for caregivers, with a variety of educational articles and resources, including a free independent living assessment.
- Product solutions, such as personal emergency response systems and medication dispensing services, address two of caregivers’ biggest concerns, offering loved ones the ability to access help when needed or providing them reminders to dispense their medications at pre-programmed times.
The idea isn’t to reduce the interaction between caregiver and loved one; but rather, to make that time spent together more meaningful.
“Caregivers have told us that of course they want to spend time caring for a parent, because they’re caring for someone they love,” Sabalauskas says. “Getting help gives caregivers a chance to refocus on the aspects of the relationship that are important to them.”