The State of Caregiving

Caregiving can be a rewarding and satisfying experience. At the same time, providing care to a loved one, friend, or neighbor also brings change, frustration, stress and, even some hardship to the life of a caregiver.

Today caregiving in the United States is a complicated issue with many layers and it takes on a lot of different forms. For example, an elderly parent lives alone but asks an adult child or friend to provide occasional transportation, assistance with medical paperwork, or to meet for a weekly coffee date. On the other hand, a senior loved one who requires help with daily needs, due to a medical condition, may need to live with an adult child full-time or move into an assisted care facility. This becomes a bigger burden, especially if an aging parent is reluctant to move and the caregiver also has children still living at home.

Caregiving Facts

Today those 65 and over make up 15% of the country’s population. That number will increase to 32% starting in the year 2030, when all baby boomers will be 65 or older. By 2035, the Census Bureau projects the population of seniors will be greater than the number of children. This has been called the silver tsunami or gray wave. Medical advances are extending life expectancy, and most if not all these people will need some form of care in their later years.

Unpaid caregivers are the backbone in providing care to aging adults. The nation would be in a true public health crisis without them. The impact would further stretch Medicare, Medicaid, and state budgets in trying to provide the same help for the elderly as family caregivers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines a caregiver as an unpaid individual (spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor) involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks. Formal caregivers are paid care providers who work in a home or in a care setting (day care, residential facility, long-term care facility). These facts relate to unpaid caregivers.

According to a report on caregiving in the United States from the BLS in a two year-period (2017 and 2018):

  • There were approximately 40 million caregivers providing unpaid care to an adult 65 years and older. People ages 55 to 64 provided the most care (24%), followed by those ages 45 to 54 (21%). Individuals 65 and over make up about 18% of unpaid caregivers.
  • About 36% of eldercare providers engaged in household activities such as food preparation, cleanup, and general housework. 37% of caregivers spent their time caregiving in leisure activities including socializing.
  • The number of women who provide care (27%) is greater than men (24%).  Both men and women spent about 3.5 hours in caregiving activities on the days they provided care.
  • Approximately 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. (Alzheimer’s Association 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.)


Care for the Caregiver

  • Practice self-care. If you don’t take care of your own mental and physical health than you can’t take care of a loved one. This is why flight attendants always instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen mask first and then assist children and other passengers. Help yourself so you can help an aging loved one–then everyone’s life will be better. Exercise several times a week by either going to the gym or taking a walk. Keep a weekly tennis match or golf game. Get a good night’s rest, eat nutritious meals, and keep up with your own health by not missing doctor’s appointments. Above all, engage in regular activities that bring you joy.
  • Seek and accept help. Don’t be reluctant to ask friends or other family members for help. Be specific in your requests so others will know what is expected of them. Some examples: “Can you come over and sit with my mom next Tuesday morning from 9 – 11 so I can make a hair appointment?” Or, “Can you be with dad every other Wednesday from 1 – 4 so I can take some time off to run personal errands.”
  • Hire a paid caregiver. Hire a home health aide or caregiver/personal assistant a few hours a week to give yourself a break. The average cost of home health is $15 to $25 per hour depending on location. Check with friends for a reference, ask around a parent’s assisted living facility for recommendations, or go through a home health care agency.
  • Use respite care. Respite care offers a temporary place for people with chronic medical conditions to stay (usually for a few days/weeks.) Respite care offers an option for the usual caregiver to rest, take care of personal business, or travel. Many assisted living/skilled care facilities offer respite care.
  • Find a support group. Only other caregivers can truly understand what you are going through. A support group can provide encouragement and solace as a safe place to confidentially discuss and vent your feelings. Check online for a local group in your area.
  • Consider skilled care. Many caregivers (especially spouses) say they will always care for a loved one at home. However, after a few years, this task can become more burdensome, especially if the caregiver’s own health is declining. Consider moving your loved one into a skilled care or memory care facility. These facilities have the experience and the expertise to deal with the special needs of people with dementia, or other long-term serious chronic illnesses.