November is National Caregiver Month. It also happens to be the month where we all give thanks. So, for this Thanksgiving, we want to say: Thank you, dear Caregiver! We know there are an estimated 43.5 million of you providing care for your loved one(s) in the U.S. (1). Nearly 14% of you are caring for an adult and an additional 2.7% are providing care to both a child and an adult (1). We know that the majority of you unpaid caregivers are 49-year-old females and are providing care for other females who are typically 70-years-old (1). We also know that you are probably older than 49 if you are White, but are a younger caregiver if you are African-American, Hispanic, or Asian American (1). The older the person for whom you provide care, the more likely you are to be dealing with issues of care associated with Alzheimer’s disease or heart disease (1).
Thank you, dear Caregiver, for sacrificing so much to care for your loved one(s). We know that you provide an average of 34 hours of unpaid care (1). We know that you are stressed financially and stressed about your finances. We know that you typically do not have another option, that you must care for your loved one(s) as there is no other choice. We also know that 60% of you try to maintain employment while simultaneously caring for your loved one(s). That is, until the burden of caregiving becomes too heavy, and you must leave employment to provide care. We know that, when you must leave your job, you no longer can contribute to your own retirement and Social Security. We know you are sacrificing some of your future for the current needs of your loved one(s). We are thankful that some employers are providing flexible work hours and paid sick days for you to provide care to your loved one (1). But we also know that this may not be enough. You often need to find ways to care for your own mental and physical health needs, to find work-caregiving-life balance, but you feel you are unable to do so.
Thank you, dear Caregiver, for providing health care in your home. We know it is true that healthcare typically does not take place in the hospital or medical clinic, but in your home. We know that you are providing increasingly more complex care for your loved one(s) than ever before. We know that you spend nearly $7,000 annually out-of-pocket to provide care to your loved one(s) (2). The economic value of the unpaid care you give is an estimated $470 billion (3). That’s billion, with a “b.” For perspective, that’s almost more than $20 billion more than the U.S. spends on Medicaid and as much as the four largest U.S. technology companies (Apple, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft) earned in combined $469 billion in sales in 2013-2014 (3). Only Walmart, who earned $477 billion in 2013-2014 had a larger economic impact than the care you provide. Thank you, dear Caregiver, for being an invaluable part of the economic and healthcare system.
Dear Caregiver, we need you. We need you to be as healthy as you can be for your long-term health and in order to continue to provide the care you do for your loved one(s). Here are a few things we want you to remember:
- Acknowledge that you are not perfect. You are going to have good days and bad. You cannot fix everything and you must not try to do so. Seek help when help is needed or desired.
- Accept the help of others. This can be one of the hardest things to do, but in order to stay healthy, it’s okay to let others help. Ask for help. Accept their help.
- Understand the disease or illness of your loved one(s) and learn how to best support and care for them. Ask questions…then ask more questions. The Internet may be a good resource, but others who are experiencing something similar may provide key support too. Your medical providers must help answer your questions. It is their duty to do so. It is your duty to advocate and ask questions. Empower yourself through knowledge.
- Strengthen your coping and stress-reduction skills. You’ve heard these before, but they are so true: eat right, exercise, and try to get 7-8 hours of sleep. We know you value the care you give. Reducing your stress will help you be even stronger at giving the care at the level you expect of yourself.
- Finally, as you reach out for support, do not forget that your local Area Agency on Aging has information, supports, and services that may assist you in your caregiving role.
Thank you, dear Caregiver, for all you do. We know you are invaluable. We want you to be as healthy as you can be. Thank you for all you do.
Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging provide caregiver support services.
LifeLong Links, Iowa’s Aging & Disability Resource Center.
Iowa’s paid caregiver resource: Iowa Caregivers
- National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute (2015). Caregiving in the U.S. 2015. Accessed November 21, 2018. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/caregiving-in-the-united-states-2015-report-revised.pdf.
- Rainville, C., Skufca, L., & Mehegan, L. (2016). Family Caregiving and out-of pocket costs: 2016 report. AARP. Accessed November 21, 2018. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/ltc/2016/family-caregiving-costs.doi.10.26419%252Fres.00138.001.pdf.
- Reinhard, S.C, Feinberg, L.F., Choula, R., & Houser, A. (2015). Valuing the invaluable: 2015 update: Undeniable progress, but big gaps remain. AARP Public Policy Institute. Accessed November 21, 2018. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/valuing-the-invaluable-2015-update-new.pdf.