Everywhere I go as AARP's chief volunteer spokesman, I ask how many people in the room are caregivers for family members who are unable to manage completely on their own. At least half the hands go up, and often it's closer to two-thirds.
See also: Caregiving Resource Center.
I talked with a mother of two school-age children who was exhausting herself and jeopardizing her job because of the time she devoted to caring for her own mother, who had early-onset Alzheimer's. There are millions like her: More than one in five workers ages 45 to 64 is a caregiver, typically for a parent. If you're not currently playing that role, chances are you either have done this or will be doing it someday.
The work of caregiving is done lovingly, but as the woman I met showed, it can be physically demanding and emotionally taxing -— and it often comes with unexpected financial burdens. Few of us are prepared for the challenge. Few know where to turn for help or advice. Most of us are just trying to muddle through.
AARP is determined to ease the burden, to give people what they need so they can do better than muddle through. Our campaign with the Ad Council steers caregivers to our Caregiving Resource Center. This site features around-the-clock, easily accessible tools and information, so caregivers will feel less isolated, can connect with experts and provide the best care for their loved ones — and themselves.
Although family caregivers see themselves simply as devoted daughters, nephews or wives, among others, the help they give is wildly underestimated. For their loved ones, it fulfills the wish an overwhelming majority of older people express: to stay in their own homes and communities, rather than move to an institutionalized setting, when they can't take care of all their daily needs.
Unpaid caregiving is also a hidden part of our national economy. A study showed that in 2009 the roughly 42 million unpaid caregivers in the United States provided an estimated $450 billion worth of care. That number is equivalent to Wal-Mart's total annual sales that year.
Caregiving is a noble, rewarding and frustrating job. If we tackle it together, each of us will be better able to handle the challenge and responsibility. We want you to know you're not alone. You can turn to us.