Think back on your working or home life. What was the biggest mistake you made when taking on a big project? If you answered, "Thinking I could do it alone," you're like many of us.
See also: Why do some seniors feel isolated?
If you're among the 42 million unpaid family caregivers who are providing help to someone else (usually an aging parent) who needs help performing the daily tasks essential to leading a normal life, thinking you can do it alone is not only mistaken, but potentially disastrous.
Why? Because caregiving affects every aspect of your life, from finances to housing to your own health.
Interestingly, many of these caregivers I'm talking about don't call what they are doing "caregiving" — they would say "I'm helping my mom" or "I'm making sure my dad eats breakfast every day." To many, the word "caregiver" means a full-time or part-time paid nurse or home health care worker, while they equate what they are doing to "just helping out" or "being a good daughter or son."
And although these people aren't being paid for the care and assistance they give so dutifully every day, unpaid caregivers have quite an impact on the economy. The services they provide would cost families $450 billion a year on the open market. Given that one in every five people in the United States will be at least 65 in 2030, and that the number of paid home health care workers and geriatric specialists is declining, there will be millions more unpaid caregivers in the future. This is a fact we cannot afford to ignore.
With half of the caregivers in the United States also holding full-time jobs, the cost of informal caregiving in terms of lost productivity to their employers is $33 billion annually, according to a survey by MetLife. It's easy enough to look at the demographics and see that the situation isn't going to get better on its own, but to date just a third of U.S. companies have instituted policies such as telecommuting and flextime aimed at helping their employee caregivers.
In terms of dollars and cents, caregivers don't come out very well, either. Seven in 10 suffer work-related difficulties because of the care they provide, including rearranging their work schedule, decreasing their hours or taking unpaid leave. Women are the hardest-hit financially because they are much more likely than male caregivers to take a less-demanding job, lose job-related benefits by cutting their hours, or give up outside work entirely. As a result, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found in 2009 that women who had been caregivers during their working years were 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty at age 65 and over.
This is why the issue of caregiving is of the utmost importance to AARP Foundation. November is National Family Caregivers Month and although "caregiving" is not a focus area we call out like hunger, housing, income or isolation, it's an issue that's relevant to the work we do in so many ways.