The most elaborate juggling acts today are performed by women holding down jobs while caring for aging parents, running their own households and still caring for their own children and grandchildren, according to a comprehensive report on caregiving released today.
Among its many findings, the “2009 Caregiving in the U.S.A.” study, commissioned by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP and funding from the MetLife Foundation, determined that the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who has seen her personal responsibilities and career collide. Two-thirds of the surveyed caregivers have reported late to work or taken time off during the workday because of caregiving issues. For a fifth of caregivers, the demands were so intense they had to take a leave of absence from work. This is an increase from 2004, when 58 percent of surveyed caregivers said their responsibilities were affecting workplace attendance.
“It is without a doubt a juggling act,” says Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president of Livable Communities Strategies for AARP. “The average amount of time that somebody is providing care is 19 hours a week, which is in itself a part-time job.”
The time constraints on the country’s 66 million caregivers are only increasing, according to the report. In 2004, 58 percent of respondents said they’d been absent from work for caregiving-related reasons. In 2009, that figure increased to 64 percent, or nearly two out of three caregivers. Ten percent of workers felt that they needed to rearrange their work schedule or take a less demanding job to care for older adults, Ginzler says.
The caregiving drain
The financial, physical and emotional demands of caregiving are leaving caregivers desperate for resources that will ease their burden. This goes beyond feeling overwhelmed: Nearly a fifth of caregivers report their own health as fair or poor, and 17 percent of caregivers believe their health has worsened since taking on these duties. Roughly one in three caregivers report that caregiving is emotionally stressful.
It’s not a surprise, says Barbara McVicker, author of Stuck in the Middle, who consults with companies on caregiving issues. “Caregivers’ lives revolve around coming home from work, getting the kids off to soccer, then driving to Mom’s house and setting out the pills,” she says. “The things that used to feed their spirits, whether it was gardening or reading—they don’t do that anymore.”
Caregivers are also “absolutely running on empty,” says McVicker, since lack of time forces people to sacrifice sleep.
The caregiving marathon
The demands of caregiving are also rarely short-term. Most arrangements for older adults go on for an average of 4.6 years, according to the report. The most common tasks performed include helping older people with getting dressed, bathing and showering, toileting and feeding. Providing transportation, helping with housework, buying groceries, preparing meals and managing finances are also common responsibilities.
Most caregivers are not shouldering this burden alone. Two-thirds have help from another unpaid caregiver, such as a sibling, while 35 percent have paid help. The number of people using paid help decreased from 2004 to 2009, from 41 percent to 35 percent. This could be as a result of a flattened economy making it harder for people to afford to pay for help.
And the need for the number of caregivers in the United States is only going to increase as the boomer generation continues its march toward retirement, says Ginzler. But the generation following them is simply not as large, so in the future there will be fewer caregivers, yet more people in need of assistance.