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The Emotional Toll of Being a Caregiver

We need to come together to lighten the stress many feel

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Our nation is waking up to the fact that caregivers are essential to the well-being of families and our economy. Their sacrifices save lives and allow millions of older adults and others with long- or short-term illnesses or disabilities to receive treatment at home. They are a crucial part of our health care system and represent about $600 billion of unpaid labor each year.

AARP is proud to be a leading voice in addressing the needs of our nation’s 48 million unpaid caregivers. Together with federal, state and growing corporate support, we have accomplished much.

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But we still have more to do. As the population ages, the demands on family caregivers are going to increase and take an even greater toll on their bodies and minds.

AARP’s recent report, “A Look at U.S. Caregivers’ Mental Health,” asked people about the effect that caregiving has on their physical and emotional health, their levels of stress and the ways in which they manage the pressure.

What we found is that most people said they were getting an adequate amount of support from friends and families, but that didn’t alleviate some of the strain that comes with the responsibility of caring for a loved one.

More than half of those we surveyed said caregiving increased their level of stress, worry, concern for the future and anxiety.

The majority of caregivers with full-time jobs suffer from mental health challenges, and many say they are too burned out to do their jobs as well as they want to.

Clearly, America’s caregivers are suffering, often in silence.

At AARP, we understand the psychic burden that can accompany caregiving.

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Illustration by Michael Hoeweler

We know that women tend to deal with most of the load. And we know young couples can be “sandwiched” between caring for their aging parents and their own children.

We hear your stories about having to choose between a job and caring for those you love.

AARP wants to make it our mission to be sure that America hears you as well and that the country accelerates efforts to make your lives better.

While we applaud the growing bipartisan commitment to assist caregivers, we will continue working to give voice to your commitment.

Just as airline safety instructions advise us to put on our oxygen masks before helping a child or fellow passenger, we must equip caregivers with the resources to protect themselves as they face the rigors of their compassionate service to others.

I am optimistic we will continue to make progress.

In our survey, caregivers report that despite the multitude of challenges they face, helping a family member or friend in need has a positive effect on their lives. It brings a sense of purpose and pride.

Caregiving spans the spectrum. It touches every race, religion, political affiliation and income bracket.

When we come together to lighten the burden for caregivers, we reaffirm what it means to be an American family. That is something we should all feel good about.

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