(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) reports that 39.8 million Americans provide care to someone with a disability or illness. And within that number 15.7 million caregivers care for a family member who has some form of dementia. Those who care for a parent clock in at 42 percent.
With the elderly population growing in the US, the challenges that family caregivers face will become more widespread.
What are some of the issues that family caregivers face and what safeguards can be instituted to provide needed support?
We look at common problems and present-day solutions.
Impact on primary caregiver's physical health
The average age of a family caregiver is 49.2 years, according to the FCA. Of the tasks that a caregiver typically enacts, 43 percent help the sick member get in and out of beds and chairs. Therefore, the physical strain on the caregiver is increased.
While caregivers who do not live with the ill family member average 24 hours a week providing care. Those who do live with an ill family member average 40 hours a week. According to the AARP, caregivers who are older (75 plus years) average even more hours at 34 hours. This number is likely due to the caregiving provided to a spouse with a long-term illness. The number of hours spent caregiving, plus the physical toll as the caregiver carries out duties all add up.
One of the most common solutions to the physical stress placed on family caregivers is that of hiring a home health aide. This move alleviates the load of the primary caregiver, allowing time off, while ensuring that the ill member is cared for.
Emotional stress placed on caregiver
Observing the pain of a loved one's illness is a stressful event in any person's life. Particularly for those who must face this reality daily and interact with the individual who is often suffering and in pain. Individuals with long-term illnesses often are limited in what they are able to do. This can lead to frustration in both the ill person and the caregiver.
Living daily with the idea of possible loss can also place emotional stress on all close to the sick member. A great number of those suffering from long-term illnesses have a disease or sickness that has a high chance of mortality. Dealing and preparing for the possibility of loss can weigh heavily on a caregiver's mind and emotions.
This emotional stress can make it difficult for the caregiver to maintain healthy relationships. And can cause the caregiver to feel isolated.
Mayo Clinic advises caregivers to watch for these signs of stress:
Feelings of overwhelm or worry
Feelings of deep sadness
Digestive pains, headaches, or other pains in the body
Growing dependence on alcohol or prescription medications to help one "unwind"
Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Loss of weight or appetite
Knowing what to look for when one is overly stressed can serve as a warning to take some time to care for one’s emotional needs. Many experts recommend that caregivers join a support group. Support groups can help provide encouragement and validation at key moments, allowing the main caregiver to feel respected and valued.
Financial strain and loss of work on family caregivers
Because caregiving for a family member can take up many hours in a week, primary caregivers often feel strained financially. In an AARP report, 78 percent of family caregivers were spending $6,954 on caregiving expenses out of their own pocket. For some, this amounts to 20 percent of their yearly income. The cost comes not only from the lessened ability to work and thus bring home sufficient income. But a caregiver also must deal with medical expenses.
The AARP provides some guidance on how family caregivers can receive tax breaks. If the caregiver has extended family, see what others can do to ease the burden of the primary caregiver. The support from many others can go far in alleviating the financial burden carried by one. Other innovative solutions for funding expenses medical costs in recent years have been to open a crowdfunding web page where loved ones can pitch in.
But support does not only need to be cash to equal financial support. Anyone can help out with caregiving duties. Alleviating the duties of the primary caregiver allows him or her to continue working, thus supporting him or her in an indirect but valuable way.