November is National Family Caregivers Month

As professional clinicians, we work with patients daily to help them get through painful bone, joint and muscle conditions. We enjoy our work and the support of our professional peers. But there’s a vital link in the chain of care that is often unrecognized for the difficult physical and emotional job they do as carers – unpaid family caregivers.

That’s why each November, especially with Thanksgiving on the horizon, we commemorate National Family Caregivers Month – a time when we honor those who give their time, energy and resources to provide care for loved ones. Caregiver Action Network (CAN) has themed this year’s commemoration “take care to give care,” an acknowledgment that many caregivers put themselves at risk while caring for others in their lives.

According to CAN, one out of five caregivers admit they have sacrificed their own physical health while caring for a loved one. Due to stress, family caregivers have a disproportionate number of health and emotional problems. They are twice as likely to suffer depression and are at increased risk for many other chronic conditions.

The organization stresses carers should get proper nutrition to help maintain strength, energy and stamina, as well as strengthening the immune system. Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the most powerful things carers can do to take care of themselves  and keep a positive attitude overall. Getting rest to recharge also can help reduce risk for health issues from chronic stress.

From our standpoint dealing with musculoskeletal conditions, we particularly caution caregivers to be mindful of the day-to-day risks of muscle, bone and joint injury.  For example, take time to use proper lifting techniques  and be sure to use relevant equipment when possible such as shower chairs and raised toilet seats.

Caregiver Facts

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, caregivers are as diverse as the United States population: they come from every age, gender, socioeconomic, and racial/ethnic group. They share positive aspects of caregiving. They also share many struggles, but can face different challenges depending on their circumstances. Caregivers may need different kinds of  support depending on their loved one’s condition and needs, and their own limitations, , strengths, and resources.  In their joint report with AARP, Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, the Alliance found that an estimated 43.5 million adults in the U.S. provide unpaid care to an adult or a child; approximately 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older.

Additionally, the typical high-hour caregiver (who provides unpaid care for at least 21 hours a week) has been caregiving for an average of 5-1/2 years and expects to continue care for another 5 years. Nearly half of these high-hour caregivers report high levels of emotional stress (46 percent).

With an average household income of $45,700, caregivers report not only emotional strain, but financial strain as well. High-hour caregivers report difficulty in finding affordable  services, such as delivered meals, transportation, or in-home health services, in their local communities to support botht themselves and  their loved ones, according to the Alliance. Caregivers who live more than an hour away from their care recipient also report higher levels of financial strain (21 percent), perhaps because 4 out of 10 long-distance caregivers report the use of paid help (41 percent).

Also, while the “average” caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for a relative, nearly a quarter of caregivers are millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 who are equally likely to be male or female. On the other end of the spectrum, caregivers aged 75 or older are typically the sole support for their loved one, providing care without paid help or help from relatives and friends. Men, a group often stereotyped as failing to take on caregiving responsibilities, currently represent 40 percent of family caregivers and provide an average of 23 hours a week supporting a loved one.

Other statistics in the report:

  • 82% care for one person who is likely either living with the caregiver or living within 20 minutes of the caregiver.

  • 60% of caregivers are female. The typical caregiver is a 49-year-old female caring for a 69-year-old female relative, most likely her mother.

  • 34% of caregivers have a full-time job, while 25% work part time. Caregivers who work do so for 34.7 hours per week on average.

  • Caregivers have been caring for 4 years on average, spending 24.4 hours per week helping with activities like bathing, dressing, housework, and managing finances.

  • 32% provide at least 21 hours of care a week, on average providing 62.2 hours of care weekly.

  • 38% of caregivers report high emotional stress from the demands of caregiving.

The full report is available at: http://www.caregiving.org/caregiving2015/

We believe caregivers need support and acknowledgment for the hard work they do, and they  need to take good care of themselves as well as those in their charge. As President Barack Obama said in his recent proclamation: “This month, and every month, let us lift up all those who work to tirelessly advance the health and wellness of those they love. Let us encourage those who choose to be caregivers and look toward a future where our politics and our policies reflect the selflessness and open-hearted empathy they show their loved ones every day.”

We couldn’t agree more.