Informal Caregivers and Stress

In 2007, 12 million people living in the United States required long-term care services. By 2050, 27 million people are estimated to require long-term care. These individuals have a chronic condition, such as an illness or trauma, which makes it hard for them to complete daily tasks like bathing, eating, dressing themselves, and doing household chores. Long-term care services can be provided in a person’s home, or in a residential setting like an assisted living facility or a nursing home.

Sixty-three percent of people who require long-term care are adults aged 65 and older. Many who look after this group are called informal caregivers. An informal caregiver is a person such as a family member, neighbor, or friend who provides unpaid care for someone. Informal caregivers can provide care for someone part-time or full-time, and they may or may not live together. Most caregivers of older adults are an adult child or spouse and many caregivers of older adults are older adults themselves. The average age of caregivers for people who are 65 and older is 63 years old, and 1 in 3 of these older caregivers report that their own health is fair or poor. In the United States alone, there are about 34 million people who are informal caregivers for people over the age of 50! Caregivers spend an average of 13 days each month helping with tasks like shopping, housekeeping, and transportation, and they spend an average of 6 days per month helping with tasks like feeding, bathing, and grooming.

Being a long-term caregiver can be very stressful; 66% of caregivers of older adults reported moderate or high amounts of emotional stress due to their caregiving role. Many caregivers must balance their caregiving duties with other family duties and work responsibilities; 60% of caregivers of older adults worked at the same time as being a caregiver and 60% of working caregivers reported that their work had been affected by their role as a caregiver. Many said that they had missed work, come in late to work, or left work early because of their caregiving responsibilities. Fourteen percent of working caregivers took a leave of absence from work due to their role as a caregiver, and 10% left work or retired early because of caregiving duties.

If you are a caregiver of an older adult, you may notice that you are feeling signs of stress. These signs include:

·         Not sleeping much or sleeping too much and feeling very tired all the time.

·         Weight gain or loss.

·         Feeling sad, anxious, or becoming angry more easily.

·         Losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

·         Misusing alcohol or drugs.

The stress caused by being a caregiver can feel overwhelming, but there are ways that you can manage this stress! If you or another caregiver that you know is feeling very stressed because of your responsibilities, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you:

·         Accept that you may need help in caregiving duties from family and friends, and plan ways that family and friends can help with caregiving responsibilities.

·         Set realistic goals for your caregiving duties, and break down larger duties into several small tasks.

·         Find a support group! There may be groups for caregivers of older adults in your area where you can receive encouragement and advice from others who are experiencing similar situations.

·         Seek out resources for caregivers in your area, such as transportation resources or meal services. You can contact your Area Agency on Aging or another organization that helps older adults and their caregivers for more resources.

·         Practice self-care! Set aside time each week for yourself and your own needs. This can include taking part in hobbies or other enjoyable activities, exercising, or spending time with family and friends.

·         See your doctor or other healthcare professional if you feel you need professional help.

For more information about long-term care and informal caregiving, please visit the National Center on Caregiving and the AARP’s Focused Look at Caregivers of Older Adults. For information about caregiver stress and ways that caregivers can relieve stress, visit the Mayo Clinic.