There are millions of individuals that give of themselves to help a family member or friend with age-related disabilities and live a more normal life.  These are mostly uncompensated family members, a third of whom, according to the CDC have disabilities themselves. They come in many varieties including relatives, partners, friends or neighbors.  They almost always have a significant personal relationship with an older person or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition.

The average age of a family caregiver is 49 — but nearly 10 percent are seniors themselves. Caregivers over the age of 75 are most likely taking care of a spouse or partner.

The responsibilities cover the full range of life’s physical activities including assisting with personal care such as bathing and grooming, dressing, toileting, and exercise. Then there are the mechanics of living including food preparation, shopping, housekeeping, laundry, and other errands. And, the health care responsibilities like overseeing medication and prescription usage, appointment reminders and administering medicine.  The caregiver’s life is very full, in fact it can be a significant burden.

Caregiver burden can be defined as the strain borne by a person who cares for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member.  Caregiver burden is related to the well-being of both the individual and caregiver. Understanding the attributes associated with caregiver burden is important.

Caregiver Challenges

When it feels like few other family members are contributing to the process, caregivers can often feel cut off from the outside world and experience a feeling of isolation.

Stress is often a big part of caregiving.  Taking care of a loved one and being responsible for their health can be very stressful.

As a part of the responsibility for caregiving there are often unreimbursed expenses associated with the responsibility.  That financial burden is in itself, a stress that must be acknowledged.

If you are a reluctant caregiver, perhaps caring for a relative more out of obligation than love, you may resent the person you care for.  This resentment or the feeling of unfairness or irritation can be emotionally debilitating. If you are the only one providing care, you may resent others for not pitching in.

On the Positive Side…

Caregiving to a family member can be tremendously rewarding.  Through it you may experience a strengthening of the relationship with the person you care for and experience their appreciation knowing how much they appreciate your help.

And, because you may have never been in such a position before, you gain the opportunity for personal growth and the development of new skills. You will experience new trials – some growthful, others challenging.

And, in the best of situations you will enjoy receiving the acknowledgement of your family and friends for your selfless gift.

A more global view of the benefits of family caregiving is that it has the potential of substituting for formal health care services and the associated costs to the family as well as Medicare and Medicaid in the form of reduced nursing home use and lower rates of home care (non-medical activities) and home health care utilization.

There are professional agencies that can provide respite care when the family caregiver needs a break.  These same agencies are situated to take over daily responsibilities should the burden exceed the family caregiver’s ability to continue.

Celebrating Family Caregivers

November is acknowledged as the month where Family Caregivers are appreciated. Caregiving can affect the caregiver’s life in a myriad of ways. Impacts include his or her ability to work, engage in social interactions and relationships, and maintain good physical and mental health.

Caregiving also can bring great satisfaction and strengthen relationships, thus enhancing the caregiver’s quality of life. As the population ages and disability worsens, it is critical to understand the physical and mental health burden on caregivers, the range of tasks caregivers may perform, and the societal and economic impacts of long-term chronic diseases or disability. Family caregivers are to be celebrated for the economic value they provide and the positive impacts on the lives of those for whom they care.