November is National Family Caregivers Month and tomorrow is Thanksgiving. That makes two good reasons -- today -- to feel grateful for the caregivers in our lives.
At this point in my journey with aging and Parkinson's, I see only glimpses of the dark at the end of the tunnel.I'm still in pretty good shape, with few physical caregiving requirements. But I benefit immensely from the emotional support I get from my friends and my families -- the Schappis and my domestic partners.
One of these days, though, I'll be in the midst of the dark at the end of the tunnel and dependent on caregivers to help me physically and mentally. Each week at my Parkinson's support group meetings, I see friends in the later stages of the PD decline. I hear how much they depend on their caregivers -- spouses and/or professionals -- and about the challenges they face.
Contribution of Caregivers
AARP estimates that 42 million families care for a loved one with a chronic disability or the frailty of old age. The average American caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home but also spends about 20 hours a week providing unpaid care for her mother . . . and has for almost five years.
According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Foundation, nearly 40 percent of Americans perform caregiving services for a loved one or relative. That number was 30 percent in 2010.
The Pew study found that 86 percent of these caregivers are between 30 and 64. That age range means that most of them must balance their caregiving commitments with the requirements of work and family.
Family caregiving most often means elder care, and Alzheimer's is increasingly involved. Estimates indicate that over 15 million Americans provided care to Alzheimer's and dementia patients in 2012.
Responsibilities vary greatly. Caregivers help with simpler tasks like walking and washing. Increasingly, they also perform medical and nursing tasks, like operating special equipment and managing medicines.
Economic Impact of Caregiving
AARP's research estimates that in 2009, the economic value of family caregiving was $450 billion!
That figure is based on 42.1 million caregivers, 18 or older, providing 18.4 hours of care per week to recipients 18 or older, at a rate of $11.18 per hour.
The Toll on Caregivers
AARP's June research found that 59 percent of caregivers reported feeling "proud" to provide assistance. Almost three in ten said their lives had changed, and 20 percent said their weight, exercise regimen, or social life had suffered.
AARP found that one in three caregivers felt sad or depressed, and 44 percent said they bottled up those feelings. Almost 40 percent reported sleeping less since becoming caregivers, while one third of them avoided making decisions or isolated themselves. Almost 25 percent said they do what I do when stressed -- eat more.
It's a given: at some point in virtually all our lives, we'll either give or receive care.