As your family progresses through the various stages of life, chances are that at some point in your life you will find yourself acting as a caregiver. You are not alone in this role: here are some numbers that show just how many Americans act as family caregivers.

The number of caregivers

A caregiver is someone who provides care to another person who is elderly, ill, or disabled. This caregiving may range from running errands and helping with grocery and laundry to full-time care of someone who is no longer capable of caring for him- or herself.

In 2015 a research report was released by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving. The following figures are from this research report entitled Caregiving in the U.S. 2015:

  • Almost 45 million American adults provided informal (unpaid) care in the 12 months prior to the survey.
  • Almost 35 million American adults provided unpaid care to someone aged 50 years or more.
  • Over half of caregivers are female (60%) but males are caregivers too (40%).
  • The vast majority of caregivers (82%) are caring for a single individual.
  • Another huge majority (85%) are caring for a relative.
  • Nearly half are taking care of one of their own parents or a parent of a spouse.
  • Ten percent take care of their own spouse.

Who are the caregivers?

The figures above show that they are relatives, in-laws, and spouses. According to Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, they are mature people, with the average age being 49 years. However, seven percent of them are over 75 years of age themselves.

An article by Renee Stepler from the Pew Research Center's Fact Tank shows that almost one fourth (23%) of American adults between the ages of 45 and 64 are caregivers to an aged person. Almost 20% of adults who are themselves over 65 years of age care for someone else who is aged. About 30% are caring for their own spouses (29%) and a little higher percentage (33%) are helping a neighbor or friend.

Whom do they care for?

According to the Alzheimer's Association, in 2012 some 15 million of the caregivers--or almost one-fourth--are providing care for someone who is suffering from Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia.

The AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving report notes that the majority of recipients of caregiving have a long term debilitating physical condition (59%). Some also have short term debilitating conditions that require help. The Alzheimer Association's figure of about a fourth of care recipients having memory problems in some form is confirmed by Caregiving in the U.S. 2015. However, the Caregiving report notes that fewer than 10% of caregivers consider their care recipient's dementia or memory losses the main reason the person needs care.

What do caregivers do?

Interestingly, both men and women provide more care in the form of "sweat equity" as opposed to providing personal care or financial support. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, the types of care most commonly provided are tasks such as running errands, helping out with repairs around the house, and performing housework chores. In addition, 68% of caregivers provide emotional support to their elderly loved ones.

The AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving report of 2015, however, says that some six out of ten caregivers help their care recipient with at least one out of the six Activities of Daily Living (ADLs): 1.) Getting in and out of beds and chairs (This is the most common of the ADLs that caregivers assist with) 2.) dressing 3.) toileting 4.) bathing or showering 5.) feeding 6.) coping with incontinence.

What is caregivers' value?

In addition to the emotional and moral benefits of acting as a caregiver, a caregivers' services actually have substantial financial value. These services were valued $470 billion in 2013, up from an estimated $450 billion in 2009.

If voluntary caregivers were unable to do what they do, the elderly and infirm would be forced to pay for such services at a tremendous personal and social cost.

Conclusion

Given that 29% of adults in the United States are acting as a caregiver in some capacity, it is quite likely that any given person will have this experience at least at some point during his or her lifetime. Knowing this can provide a source of comfort and encouragement, as caregivers realize that they are not alone.

Sources

Alzheimer's Association (2012). 2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer's and Dementia , Vol.7, Issue 2. Updated: November 2012. Available online at: http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2011.pdf.

AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving (June 2015). Caregiving in the U.S. Research Report. Available online at http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_CaregivingintheUS_Final-Report-June-4_WEB.pdf.

Mendes, E. (July, 2011, updated 2012). Most caregivers Look After Elderly Parent; Invest a Lot of Time. Gallup Healthways Wellbeing Survey. Available online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/148682/Caregivers-Look-Elderly-Parent-Invest-Lot-Time.aspx

Reinhard, S. C., Feinberg, L. F., Choula, R., Houser, A. (2015). Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update, The Economic Value of Family Caregiving, AARP Public Policy institute. Available online at http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/valuing-the-invaluable-2015-update-new.pdf

Stepler, Renee. (November 18, 2015). 5 facts about family caregivers. Pew Research Center Fact Tank. Available online at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/18/5-facts-about-family-caregivers/.

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