2020 has provided all of us with a greater appreciation for the presence of loved ones in our lives, familiar routines, and financial stability. These aspects of daily life may regularly require adjustment for individuals serving as family caregivers. A May 2020 report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving ( https://www.aarp.org/ppi/info-2020/caregiving-in-the-united-states.html?CMP=RDRCT-PPI-CAREGIVING-042920 ) reveals that 48 million Americans have provided care for another adult within the past year.
Individuals who have not had the experience of providing care for another person may have difficulty understanding some of the challenges faced by family caregivers. Time is probably the easiest one to comprehend, since we all tend to lead busy lives. Family caregivers must not only find the time to manage the daily details of their own lives, but they often must handle some or all of these tasks for their loved one as well. Shopping, bill paying, medical appointments, housekeeping, and home maintenance responsibilities must all be squeezed in to a caregiver’s schedule which may already include a part or full time job (61% of caregivers work). If the caregiver has children at home, scheduling becomes even more daunting. Caregivers may not be able to set aside much time for rest, exercise, or personal enjoyment, all of which are important in order to help maintain a sense of well-being and create energy to meet the demands of life.
Family finances are another area which can be challenged by caregiving. Depending upon the care recipient’s needs, additional expenses for supplies, equipment, and services may develop. If routine supervision or extensive physical care is required, a caregiver may need to reduce working hours or leave an outside job altogether. This situation creates long-term implications, as not only are wages lost for the time one is unable to work at a regular job; but future earnings for the caregiver’s retirement decline and opportunities for career advancement may be missed as well. Health insurance coverage for the caregiver may also be dependent upon a job outside of the home.
Personal relationships also have implications for family caregivers. Historical relationships between family members will affect each individual’s attitude toward the type and frequency of assistance to be given or received. Reversal of roles in a parent/child relationship may be uncomfortable as a parent (willingly or unwillingly) relinquishes authority in certain areas to a child. Spouses must also adapt to new patterns of communication and interaction within the marriage as the health or cognitive abilities of one or both of them change. The ability to spend time in one another’s company simply as loved ones can become overshadowed by increasing care needs.
A final part of the equation is the development of skills which are necessary for caregiving. Providing personal care for another adult is very different from providing personal care for a child. In addition, health care tasks are becoming more complex as people live longer, often with one or more chronic conditions. Learning to perform tasks like wound care or home dialysis can be intimidating and may have to be accomplished quickly.
In this season of Thanksgiving, it is appropriate to celebrate National Family Caregivers Month through recognition of the impact of family caregiving on the social and economic fabric of our society. Family caregivers continue to form the backbone of the American long-term care system, yet they often remain unseen, unappreciated, and under supported.
The AARP/National Alliance for Caregiving report referenced earlier provides a current overview of caregiving in the United States and documents the “typical” characteristics of family caregivers from various racial, ethnic, generational, and geographical groups. Awareness of the emotional, physical, and social factors which influence caregiving in each group is important for the development of public policy on local, state, and national levels to support these individuals and their families. These details can also bolster personal and professional efforts to maximize the caregiving experience.
Family caregivers are growing in number and are assuming greater responsibility as our older adult population continues to increase. The magnitude of their efforts and sacrifice must not be taken for granted. Thank you, family caregivers, for the devotion you demonstrate each and every day to the small and large tasks which improve the lives of those who are under your protective wings. If you are a family caregiver in need of information, please visit https://keystoneelderlaw.com/blog/
Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN