In the United States, there’s a growing demographic of tireless—but also burned-out—individuals. These are the “informal” caregivers, families and friends who take care of another person suffering from either a long-term disability or having special needs.
In the 2020 report by AARP and the National Alliance of Caregiving, the number of Americans providing any form of care to someone increased by about 10 million within the last five years. That means that a year ago, over 50 million or 21 percent of the population cared for at least one individual.
Meanwhile, the percentage of caregivers looking after two or more people also increased within the period. It went from 18 percent in 2015 to 24 percent in 2020.
Since 2015, the average hours spent on caregiving remained the same. They usually dedicated at least 24 hours a week, which makes it more than part-time work.
The tasks were also complex. About 99 percent of the respondents provided help with IADLS (instrumental activities of daily living), while at least 60 percent rendered assistance in ADLs (activities of daily living).
Nearly half of the caregivers performed nursing and medical tasks. In certain situations, the level of care they offered could already qualify for high-intensity care.
And while these caregivers often provide help selflessly, they are also feeling the strain. In the report, over 20 percent said they felt alone. More also claimed that their health was excellent. At least 20 percent shared their health status was fair compared to 17 percent in 2015.
From these data, it seems obvious that caregivers themselves need physical and emotional support. The question is how. For those looking after family members and friends, they can explore the following ideas:
1. Get Professional Help
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it may take a community to assist an ailing person. In fact, this is how the patient can receive the best care. Fortunately for caregivers, there are more options today than there were many years ago.
For instance, those living in Arizona can already find a home care agency specializing in either palliative care or hospice care. Sometimes both patients and caregivers avoid these services because of the lack of understanding of how they work, costs, and discomfort of being treated away from home.
In this setup, patients can be in a more familiar environment where they can be less stressed or be more comfortable, while caregivers can receive professional help, particularly in performing specialized medical or nursing tasks.
Some services can also offer companionship, which is helpful at times when caregivers need to go to work or attend to their needs. They can also assist in daily living activities, like walking or eating.
2. Receive Financial Support
Finances are often one of the biggest worries for both patients and caregivers. Because of the potentially high medical expenses, those who provide care may not have other options than work. However, the burden of the responsibility may mean that they may need to settle for a part-time instead of a full-time job.
Federally, the country doesn’t offer any payment to these types of caregivers. However, states may launch programs or allow easier access to available healthcare services.
In Arizona, family caregivers who modified their home or added assistive care technology to benefit the patient or special-needs person may already apply for a reimbursement of 50% of the total spending or up to $1,000.
On the other hand, some states permit self-directed Medicaid services, wherein caregivers, as representatives, are authorized to decide on the services that the patient may receive.
The options can vary, such as home and community-based services, where the household can take advantage of acute medical options like dental or nursing and long-term services. These can include respite and supported employment.
3. Manage Stress
This idea is easier said than done, but it is a commitment that can provide long-term benefits. Stress can only increase the risk of physical and mental deterioration, making it even more difficult to cope with the demands of caregiving.
The Family Caregiver Alliance outlines some examples or tips on how to effectively manage stress while taking care of someone:
- Set up boundaries, remembering that putting oneself first doesn’t have to be a selfish decision.
- Identify the causes of stress.
- Learn to know the early warning signs, so one can manage it before it becomes worse.
- Create goals for oneself.
- Be ready to ask and receive help.
Based on the 2020 report, at least 50 percent of the respondents said they became caregivers because they didn’t have a choice. But the majority also said that doing it is purposeful—only overshadowed by stress and burnout.
By learning how to deal with stress, caregivers might find more meaning in what they do.