There are many different types of family caregivers, but research shows that there are an increasing number of caregivers who are in the category of “seniors” who are helping their loved ones. A Caring.com survey found that there is a rise in caregivers in their 70s and fewer in their 50s. The survey also found that people between the ages of 60 to 69 are the largest group of family caregivers by age. There was an increase in people in their 80s and 90s who have taken on family caregiving in the past two years as well.
According to an AARP Public Policy Institute and National Alliance for Caregiving survey also published this year, found that 7 percent of caregivers providing unpaid care to a friend or relative. Many of these are spousal caregivers, but some are caring for siblings, friends, and even parents.
Not only do seniors provide care for family, they also volunteer and find employment as caregivers. There are many reasons for this choice, and sometimes people feel it is not a choice but a responsibility.
Jim Wrazen, a 68-old year old Meals on Wheels volunteer in Buffalo, New York, has been delivering meals for eight years and finds it rewarding. “Because I’m retired and I don’t work part-time, it gives me something to do,” Mr. Wrazen said. “People want their loved ones to have contact during the day. It’s important for them to have someone to talk to and to have someone checking on them.”
Mr. Wrazen does not only help seniors—he has a client who is younger with multiple sclerosis. “It’s a very valuable service, no matter what the age,” he said.
For senior caregivers that find themselves providing hands-on care for a family member, it can be a slippery slope to needing care for themselves. The New York Times profiled a couple in which a 78-year old woman cares for her 85-year old husband who is living with dementia.
“I need my rest,” Gail Schwartz, told the reporter. “I’m no spring chicken myself.”
As the article points out, sometimes the issue is not finances but a belief that no one else can be there for their family in the same way.
All family caregivers regardless of age and current health status should be aware of their own health and well-being and how time spent caregiving can take a toll on them. Being older makes it that much more challenging physically to care for someone who might be waking often in the night or to be lifted. After all, the Caring.com survey found that the amount of time spent on caregiving is equivalent to a full-time job with 39% of family caregivers reporting that they spend more than 30 hours weekly on caregiving tasks—and the percentage of people reporting this is going up.
If you or a family member is feeling burdened or lonely by caregiving, seek support in the form of a local group of fellow caregivers who can listen or share resources. Many online support groups exist too, for example, the Alzheimer’s Association has message boards or you can find your local agency on aging to tap into local experts.
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