It is estimated that more than 65 million people in the United States provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aging family member or friend during any given year. It takes a physical, emotional, and financial toll, and is an all but invisible labor of love.
Who are the caregivers? Sixty-six percent of family caregivers are women and more than 37 percent are also responsible for children and grandchildren under age 18. Caregiving goes on largely behind closed doors, before and after outside employment.
Caregivers average 20 hours a week, but 13 percent provide 40 or more hours a week. Caregivers tend to spend some of their own money to care for loved ones — averaging $5,531 per year in out-of-pocket expenses. In reality, it’s impossible to place a monetary value on the work that caregivers do, but some estimate those services are worth $375 billion a year.
It’s not hard to understand why caregivers are prone to suffer economic difficulty and neglect their own health. Many simply don’t have the time, money, or energy to properly take care of themselves, so they face long-term health issues of their own.
November is National Family Caregiver’s Month, and we owe our gratitude to the kind souls who sacrifice so much for the benefit of others, often without acknowledgement.
If You Know a Caregiver
• Caregivers are generally so focused on the needs of others that they neglect their own interests. Ask them about themselves and encourage conversation about topics unrelated to caregiving.
• They’re not likely to take you up on the common “let me know if you need anything.” Make a specific offer to run errands, prepare a meal, relieve them of their duties for a few hours, etc. A few hours out of your week could make a whole world of difference.
If You Have a Caregiver
Appreciate the sacrifices of your caregiver and encourage them to pursue their own interests whenever possible. Ask them about themselves. Say thank you. Have you hugged your caregiver today?
If You Are a Caregiver
Thank you. You are making a profound difference.
Across our country, millions of family members, neighbors, and friends provide care and support for their loved ones during times of need. With profound compassion and selflessness, these caregivers sustain American men, women, and children at their most vulnerable moments, and through their devoted acts, they exemplify the best of the American spirit. During National Family Caregivers Month, we pay tribute to the individuals throughout America who ensure the health and well-being of their relatives and loved ones.
Many of our Nation’s family caregivers assist seniors and people with disabilities to help improve their quality of life. Their efforts help deliver short-term comfort and security, facilitate social engagement, and help individuals stay in their homes and communities as long as possible. This heroic work is often done while caregivers balance other commitments to their families, jobs, and communities. As these remarkable individuals put their own lives on hold to tend to their family members, it is our responsibility to ensure they do not have to do it alone.
– President Barack Obama, November 1, 2011
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis.” She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo