En español | I was my father's primary caregiver for the last eight years of his life. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It was also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. To me, it's the ultimate in giving back. To be able to care for my father, who had cared for me his whole life, meant a lot to me.
My experience is not unique. Millions of Americans struggle to care for aging loved ones while holding down jobs, raising children and taking care of their own health. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter said it best: "There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers; those who currently are caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers."
As more and more people live well into their 90s, most if not all of us face caregiving responsibilities or need caregiving from a family member or friend. Although they don't necessarily identify themselves as caregivers, more than 45 million Americans perform some form of consistent care for older or impaired adult relatives or friends. This can range from paying bills, to driving Mom or Dad to doctor appointments, to more hands-on care such as bathing, dressing and meal preparation. For many, what starts out as just helping our parent can quickly turn into a full-time job.
The first place we turn is usually our family. In fact, family caregiving is the backbone of long-term care in this country, providing a staggering $450 billion worth of unpaid care annually. Yet most families are not prepared for the day when a family member needs caregiving. Most don't even know what tasks are involved, what questions to ask, let alone what kind of help is available.
Over 40 percent of family caregivers feel they had no choice in taking on their caregiving role. Caregiving can be daunting, frustrating and, at times, overwhelming. There's so much to deal with and so much emotion in the experience. The stress and time involved can take a toll on the caregiver's own health and finances as they put off their own doctor visits, dip into their savings, reduce their physical activity and cut back their working hours. Feeling isolated and alone, caregivers often seek out reassurance, confidence and support from others who are on a similar journey.
Finding needed resources and information, connecting with experts and organizations, and navigating this new world of caregiving is not easy.
At AARP, we're addressing this problem by building the AARP Caregiving Resource Center, whose aim is to be an essential resource where caregivers can find experts, advice, local agencies and the information they need. There's more. At the resource center, caregivers can communicate with other caregivers. We're working with the Advertising Council to publicize this invaluable resource.
As the nation recognizes National Family Caregivers Month, we are eager to provide the resources and support for those engaged in the stressful and loving act of caring for others. You are not alone. Millions of other people have experienced the challenges—and the rewards—that you face. I urge you to visit the AARP Caregiving Resource Center at aarp.org/caregiving. We want to help by giving you the tools for providing the best possible care for your loved one.