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The Selfless Act of Caregiving

November 1, 2016 | By Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach
Published in: Nurses Health Corner, Social Services

Illustration of a woman speaking with her elderly parent

According to the Evercare Survey of the Economic Downturn and Its Impact on Family Caregiving, approximately $375 billion is spent per year on "free" services provided by family caregivers. That is about twice as much as what is spent annually on homecare and nursing care services combined, which totals about $158 billion. The National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP found that approximately 29% of the U.S. population is providing care for their chronically ill, disabled, or aged loved ones, and the amount of time spent on caregiving per week totals out to about 20 hours, with 13% actually spending 40+ hours in caregiving.

Caregiver helping a patient stand from the bedsideThe typical caregiver, as described by the National Alliance for Caregiving, is a 49-year old female who provides care for a 69-year female relative with a physical condition. This caregiver is the primary, unpaid, care provider and provides this care without paid help on top of working a full-time job and is likely married, lives with a partner, and has a median household income of $54,700. As her loved one's health continues to decline, there will likely be a physical, emotional, and financial strain on the caregiver and her family unit.

November is National Family Caregivers Month. Being a caregiver is a selfless, loving, and heroic role that many of us are either facing or will be forced to face in the not too distant future. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that caregivers show higher levels of depression, as 40-70% of all caregivers show clinically depressive signs. More often than not, the depressed caregivers have coexisting anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, and/or chronic diseases. The Family Caregiver Alliance also reports higher levels of stress and frustration among caregivers, with 22% of caregivers reporting being exhausted when they go to bed at night and feeling as if they cannot fulfill their caregiving duties. These overwhelmed and stressed caregivers are in worse health than their non-caregiving counterparts; they are at an increased risk of heart disease, tend to have lower levels of self-care, and have a shortened life span.

Despite the negatives that can accompany the role of caregiving, positive aspects exist as to the money saved and time well spent with ill, disabled, or aging loved ones. By caregiving, a person can ensure that their loved one is receiving personalized care, all of their needs are being met, and memories are made that will last a lifetime.

Helpful links and resources for caregivers:

Information provided by Abigail Willett, student intern with Community Outreach at Augusta Health. To contact Dana Breeding, RN, relating to the information in this article or with questions/comments/concerns, please call (540) 332-4988 or (540) 932-4988.