En español | Jennifer Glover doesn't gripe about it, but she has been hit hard by the triple whammy of family caregiving.
Caring for her father on and off over the past four years has seriously impacted her finances, her job and her health.
Gone is her prestigious job of managing 70 people, internationally. Caregiving has created a serious drain on her bank account, forcing Glover and her husband, Lyal Glover, to downsize homes and to take on debt. And the unrelenting responsibility has affected her own health — both physically and emotionally.
"It's an alternate reality,” says the 45-year-old resident of Bowie, Texas, whose divorced father, 64-year-old Bobbie Brashear Jr., a retired high school teacher and basketball coach, temporarily moved in with Glover and her husband on several occasions after suffering three strokes and, later, congestive heart failure. “It wears and wears on you, but you don't realize the long-term effects. You find yourself in a constant flight-or-fight mode."
Family caregiving is tough — and getting much tougher. A new report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020,” that AARP conducted in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), finds that being a family caregiver is leaving an increasingly deeper footprint on finances, work and health of those who provide family members care without any compensation.
What's more, the job of being an unpaid family caregiver has become increasingly challenging as caregivers get pulled in multiple directions — at even younger ages — to care for a growing number of needy family members.
"This is not about picking up milk and dropping it off at Mom's house,” said Susan C. Reinhard, AARP senior vice president and director of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “This is about dealing with multiple medications and complex care and, sometimes, multiple people."
"Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” is the latest in a series of reports dating to 1997. It is based on online surveys conducted in 2019 of more than 1,392 caregivers ages 18 and over who cared for an adult in the past year. The findings are eye-opening.
Six in 10 caregivers report experiencing at least one impact or change to their employment situation as a result of caregiving. Some 53 percent of those surveyed report having had to go into work late, leave early or take time off to provide care.
Nearly 25 percent of caregivers say it has made their health worse, and 1 in 5 family caregivers say their own health is only fair or poor, up from 17 percent in 2015.
Almost 1 in 5 caregivers experience high financial strain from providing care, and 45 percent have experienced at least one major financial impact. For example, 28 percent have stopped saving; 23 percent have taken on more debt; and 22 percent have used up personal short-term savings while 12 percent have used up long-term savings. About 2 in 10 have left bills unpaid or paid them late. And over 1 in 10 say they have been unable to afford basic expenses such as food.
For Glover, it's been a painful combination on all three fronts, but it's only most recently — when she's had a small break from the constant caregiving now that Brashear is back in his own home — that's she's coming to grips with the emotional impact on her own mental health. Her current caregiver role requires her to handle her dad's personal business, oversee his medical and insurance paperwork, and take him to doctor appointments.
"Once you are in caregiver environment, it becomes your life and your other life becomes unrecognizable,” says Glover, who has no children so she has become the sibling to tackle family caregiving duties. “You don't know how to switch it back."
Beyond helping her dad, Glover on one occasion found herself doing some form of caregiving to four people at once. Glover only wishes that she'd reached out earlier for emotional and practical help, beyond that of what she calls her “gold-star” husband. She says that the years of caring for her dad remind her of the years she watched her mom take care of her own mother after she suffered a stroke. “Sometimes you are just called to do what needs to be done. You aren't focusing on your own life. You just want to take care of the person who needs help,” she says.
One simple way to take pressure off the tremendous impact on family caregivers is getting health care providers more involved early on, says AARP's Reinhard. Only 29 percent of health care providers are actually asking the family caregivers what kinds of help they need in caring for the person, according to the report. Even more concerning, she says, only 13 percent ask the care provider about their self-care. “They aren't asking, ‘How are you?'” Reinhard adds.
At the same time, many caregivers are taking on their difficult roles without adequate or affordable services and supports in place. For example, just 3 in 10 report that their recipient has any paid help, finds the report.
Perhaps the best way to support the caregiver is for health care and social service providers to be more proactive in reaching out, says Reinhard. Also, improved medical recordkeeping, and even a system of open notes on the person in need of care that can be seen by the patient, caregiver and medical professionals, could help to alleviate some of the caregiver's burdens, she says.
Beyond these possible actions, Glover says, there is one step that she is considering that's completely surprised her: changing careers to professional caregiving. She is now investigating graduate programs in psychology.
Despite all the financial and emotional pressures of the past several years, she says that through it she's become much closer to her father. “That's priceless,” she says. “It feels good to be the person who stepped up and was there.”