By Morgan Dubose
November is National Family Caregivers Month. It is a time designated to honor caregivers across the country who support aging parents, ill spouses or other loved ones with disabilities who remain at home.
It has been said that “the simple act of caring is heroic,” and for the estimated 40 million caregivers in the United States, this statement is especially true. It takes a timely, financial and emotional commitment to act as a family caregiver. AARP has made significant advances in our ability to equip family caregivers with the information, resources, and tools that can help them better care for their loved ones. We would like to share that information with you.
Valuing the Invaluable: Putting a Dollar Value to Family Caregiving
Caregiving is a job in and of itself. In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care. The estimated value of their unpaid service was approximately $470 billion, more than the annual sales of Apple, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft combined.
Caregivers also spend an average of 18 hours per week providing care to a family member. About 60% of these caregivers are also employed, and over a third of those employed caregivers provide over 20 hours of family care per week while working a job.
Being employed while being a caregiver is common. One in four workers ages 25 and older are also family caregivers. Caring for a loved one and working a part-time or full-time job daily can become stressful, and many caregivers say that allowing work flexibility for caregiving would help improve their balance between work and life.
Financial difficulty is extremely prevalent within the caregiving community. Reports show 68% of family caregivers say they have to use their own money to help provide care for a loved one, causing over half to feel financially strained.
The emotional toll that comes with caregiving affects more than half of all caregivers, with 55% reporting feeling overwhelmed by the amount of care needed for a family member. However, a variety of programs can alleviate some of the financial burdens of caregiving and make life a little easier. You can view a list of AARP’s Family Caregiving resources here.
The Next Family Caregivers
Millennials are the next generation of family caregivers, and it is important to understand the dynamics of this next caregiving group.
In 2018, 33% of family caregivers were Millennials, while only 18% were older. Millennials are also more likely to care for someone with a mental health or emotional issue.
Nearly 40% of Hispanic family caregivers are Millennials, with more than half of those caregivers being men. About 34% of Hispanic Millennial family caregivers contribute 21+ hours per week to caregiving – more than any group. Hispanic Millennial family caregivers face more pressure to balance work and caregiving, and on average they work 42 hours per week compared to the average Millennial caregiver at 36 hours per week.
With a new group stepping up to the caregiver role, it is key that we provide them with the resources necessary to prepare to care for their loved ones. AARP offers a Caregiving Planning Guide for Families with tips, advice, and checklists to help develop and implement a caregiving plan for a loved one or friend.
Caregiving for Veterans and Military Service Members
There are 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers in the U.S. Voluntary, uncompensated caregivers provide $14 billion in service for wounded warriors per year. Even though military caregivers have consistently experienced worse mental health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships and more workplace problems than non-caregivers, most programs offering services to military caregivers are focused on the care recipient. Only 15 percent of the programs surveyed support caregivers as a targeted population.
The most effective military caregiving plans are made with the person who’s being cared for at the center of the discussion, but it’s important to care for yourself as well. Armed with the information you gather from below, you can discover ways to support yourself while caring for a loved one.
· Team up. Caregiving is not a job for one. The support of family, friends, and colleagues, as well as fellow caregivers and service providers, is critical. Don’t face the responsibilities of caregiving alone.
· Make a plan. Knowing how you will respond to needs as they arise will provide peace of mind for you and your service member or veteran. But remember to build in flexibility so the course of action can change as your loved one’s needs shift or evolve.
· Seek support. Some issues will require additional information and resources. There are organizations and professionals with experience helping military or veteran caregivers—don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
· Care for yourself. Sustaining your energy and maintaining your health is critical, too. Mapping out how to care for yourself is as important as creating a caregiving plan for your service member or veteran.
If you’ve discovered that the scope of care that’s needed is beyond what you or your support system can provide, consider contacting a military or veteran service organization in your community. If you’re struggling to find time to take care of yourself, look into respite care options. And if you feel isolated or lonely in your caregiving journey, consider joining an in-person or online peer support group where you can connect with other military caregivers.
For more information on offers, benefits, and services tailored for older veterans and their families, AARP offers advice on How to Get Caregiving Help From the VA.
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