There are 43.5 million caregivers in the United States. Many face their own health problems due to the physical strain, emotional stress and financial hardships of being a caregiver. According to research conducted by the National Alliances for Caregiving and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons):
- 31 percent of caregivers need or want more help,
- 91 percent suffer some level of depression,
- 63 percent report that their eating habits have deteriorated, and
- 58 percent do not get enough exercise because of their caregiving commitments.
With the 65 and older age group expected to double to 70 million by 2030, more people will become caregivers for parents, siblings and friends who will often have one or more chronic conditions and will wish to remain in their own homes and communities. Some caregivers will belong to the "sandwich generation," caring for both children and parents at the same time.
Caregiving can become overwhelming. Here are five steps that can help caregivers:
- Learn about the family member's diagnosis. Knowledge about the medical condition helps caregivers understand the disease process and plan ahead realistically.
- Discuss finances and health care wishes. Although these conversations can be difficult, they help relieve anxiety and better prepare for the future.
- Invite family and close friends to discuss the care needed with and for their loved one. This meeting gives caregivers a chance to say what the caregiver needs, plan for care and ask others for help.
- Take advantage of community resources. Meals on Wheels, adult day programs and respite programs can help relieve the workload and offer needed breaks. Look for caregiver educational programs that will increase your knowledge and skills and give you support.
- Find support. This may be the most important thing a caregiver can do to prevent becoming isolated as they take on more responsibility and their social life shrinks. Online and in-person groups can be very helpful in connecting with others in the same circumstances. Caregivers can call Family Caregiver Alliance at (800) 445-8106 or locally at (715) 839-4735 or visit www.caregiver.org or www.wisconsincaregiver.org.