"At least 17.7 million individuals in the United States are family caregivers of someone age 65 and older who has significant impairment." So says a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Their report, Families Caring for an Aging America, "provides an overview of the prevalence and nature of family caregiving of older adults as well as its personal impact on caregivers' health, economic security, and overall well-being."
The report depicts a bleak picture of the state of in-home caregivers in the U.S. as the country's aging demographics and lack of a concerted system-wide support for caregivers is resulting in what experts have described as a "caregiver cliff" as the population ages but the pool of available in-home caregivers diminishes. The report focuses on the adverse social, psychological and health effects on caregivers, as any individual who has spent time caring for an older loved on with multiple chronic illnesses is well aware. The report finds, "For some people, caregiving can instill confidence, provide meaning and purpose, enhance skills, and bring the caregiver closer to the older adult. For others, caregiving takes a significant toll. An extensive literature indicates that compared to non-caregivers, family caregivers of older adults are more likely to experience emotional distress, depression, anxiety, or social isolation. Some caregivers also report being in poor physical health, and some have elevated levels of stress hormones or higher rates of chronic disease."
Caregivers have often feared that there isn't even a lot of support coming from health care providers. The St. Louis Post Dispatch, in their cover story, "Such a Lonely Job" (October 2, 2016) reports of a caregiver being given a diagnosis of a loved one's dementia and just being handed a prescription and told to come back in a year, leaving the caregiver to feel terrified and abandoned." It's instances like this that lead long-term caregivers who have learned to preserve their own levels of sanity like Nancy Menchhofer to advise, "You have to be a little selfish . . . if you crumble as a caregiver, you are not going to be able to help your loved one." Another professional who specializes in counseling caregivers puts in more bluntly, "Being selfish is a must!"
The National report concludes, "The impact of caregiving on families should not be ignored. If the needs of caregivers are not addressed, we risk compromising the well-being of our elders and their families."
Make sure to look for our next Blog post that focuses on resources currently available to help caregivers do a more effective job while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, or subscribe to our RRS feed for immediate updates.