Supporting Family Caregivers Is Everyone's Job!

Our family caregiver situation is changing. No matter who you are, yes, it's about you!

Family with a middle-aged man in a wheelchair

When it comes to caregiving, some things never change. Throughout history, family and friends have provided care for their elders and others who might be living with illness or disability.

But caregiving trends evolve. Genworth Financial, Inc. conducts a survey of family caregivers every few years, and their 2018 report revealed some surprises:

Caregivers are getting younger. In "Millennials, Welcome to Caregiving!" in the September 2018 issue of the Caring Right at Home online newsletter, we saw that 25 percent of caregivers today are aged 22 – 38. The new Genworth survey confirms that the baby boomers are no longer the predominant caregiving age cohort: Now, the average age of a caregiver is 47.

The people receiving care are younger, too. Genworth's 2010 survey found that 81 percent of care recipients were age 65 and older. In 2018, that percentage had declined to only 57 percent.

More people need care due to the effects of an accident. Age-related limitations and illness are still the primary reason that people need care, but today 21 percent of care receivers need it because of the effects of an injury, according to the Genworth report.

Caregiving creates a ripple effect. The 2018 Genworth report states that a caregiver's many tasks not only affect the caregiver, but also "affect that person's spouse, siblings, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, co-workers and employers in ways most of us don't think about."

The 2018 study also showed that while most caregivers express positive feelings about their role (82 percent), many also experience a great deal of stress (53 percent), as well as depression and resentment (41 percent). And more than half of the caregivers reported feeling unqualified for many of the hands-on tasks they're called upon to perform.

You can read a full summary of the Genworth study here.

If you're not a caregiver now, odds are that you eventually will be.

Many studies show that while few people think that they will ever become caregivers — or for that matter, that they will ever need care — the odds are not in their favor! People in the U.S. today, as well as in most other countries, are more likely than ever to provide and receive care. The population is living longer, but those extra years are often marked with illness and disability.

Your senior parents, your spouse or partner, another relative or close friend, or even an adult child could experience an illness, accident or the common changes of aging that would move you to volunteer to help. Maybe you already are inching toward caregiver status right now, providing occasional help for a person whose care needs are likely to increase.

What about your own health? Today, say experts, many people are in both roles — providing care, while needing a certain amount of it themselves. No matter how carefully we plan our lives, there are detours.

This is the time for all of us to step up and support caregivers. What can we do for these family members and friends right now?

Offer to help. Begin with, "Let me know what I can do." But don’t stop there. Get your plan on the calendar. Brainstorm with the caregiver. Offer to bring over dinner once a week, grocery shop, do yardwork, walk the dog or run errands. Better yet, offer to stay with the person who needs care so the caregiver can have some time off. Think creatively! What’s your strong suit? Can you help prepare taxes? Maybe you’re tech-savvy and can help keep their smartphones and Facebook pages up and running.

Help the caregiver locate resources. "I called, but they put me on hold for 15 minutes and I just didn't have time!" Experts describe a cycle in which caregivers are so immersed in their tasks that they are unable to research support services that could help. Offer to pitch in. Find out about local aging support services, financial advisors and eldercare attorneys, and health condition-specific organizations that offer information, support and care tips. What about an aging life care professional (geriatric care manager)? Home care agencies? Remember that your unsolicited help might feel like an intrusion or criticism — so it's probably best to ask the caregiver before you begin your research, rather than showing up with a list of phone numbers.

Lend an ear. It can be sad and frustrating to hear about the sometimes very poignant issues of family caregivers and people living with health challenges. But you can do it. Resist the temptation to commandeer the conversation, change the subject, or bring up competing life difficulties. It may be that your friend has no one else to talk to about these feelings. Ironically, caregivers may spend many hours with their loved one, yet still feel lonely and isolated, turning their feelings inward. Don't be afraid to be the one to start the conversation — that's a real gift.

Advocate. There is only so much you as an individual friend can do, because caregiving is a huge, universal issue! As with every other cause, a squeaky wheel helps — yet most family caregivers are so busy that they have little time to call attention to their plight. Here's where you can step in. Call your congressperson, go to rallies, and express support for family leave, job protection for caregivers, respite care options, and education. Remind policymakers that without family caregivers, our eldercare system would simply collapse. Caregivers are called the "backbone of our long-term care system." Fail to care for them, and the cost of care to the public will rise accordingly!

Raise the subject at your workplace. Chances are that if you aren't a caregiver, some of your co-workers are. But they may hesitate to fully share the effect that caregiving is having on them, not wanting to bring personal problems to work. It's time for everyone to talk about family leave policies, flex time, telecommuting and caregiver assistance programs. This isn't only good for caregivers. A January 2019 study from Harvard Business School found that caregiving has a much larger impact on companies than employers realize! Caregiver-friendly policies improve the reputation of a company, increase employee productivity, and help businesses recruit and retain valuable workers.

Express your appreciation. All the above suggestions are concrete ways to say "thank you" to caregivers. And what about a card, flowers, a treat or a gift certificate along with a statement of your gratitude for all the caregiver does? Whether it's a family member, close friend or co-worker, hearing that you value what they do can provide a real mood boost.

Helping with home care

When polled, a large majority of people say they would prefer to receive care in their own home as they grow older. This choice is understandable, but when we make it, we should consider how much we might be asking of family and friends!

Home care professional helping client up the stairs, carrying a pile of folded towels

One way to lessen the load is to bring in professional in-home care. Skilled nursing care can be provided at home, and may be covered by Medicare and private insurance. The largest portion of care is not medical, but includes things like hygiene care (bathing, dressing, grooming, help going to the toilet), housekeeping and laundry, meal preparation, medication reminders, and transportation to medical appointments and social opportunities.

Nonmedical home care may be covered by long-term care insurance, veterans benefits or public benefit programs. It also can be a cost-effective way to allow caregivers to stay at their jobs. When other family members contribute to the cost, this is a great way to support the caregiver … and help everyone rest assured that they're doing their part.

Do your homework and choose a reputable agency that screens, trains and supervises their caregivers, and handles liability insurance and workers' compensation for their employees — another great way to lighten the load of family caregivers.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.  

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.