Yes, it’s true that the “typical” caregiver is a middle aged woman caring for her elderly parents, but of the estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States who identify as family caregivers, there are both men and woman of different ages, backgrounds and lifestyles.
A 2015 AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving study found that 60% of caregivers are women, meaning that 40% are men. Men and women approach caregiving differently and therefore experience the joys and stresses differently as they choose to balance caregiving with work and family in their own ways.
Where women tend to provide hands on care, men tend to manage care for a loved one by hiring a professional caregiver to perform daily tasks. The study showed that 62% of the “higher-hour” (21 hours or more of weekly unpaid care) caregivers were women.
We often hear of caregiving when an adult son or daughter helps their elderly parent. However, caregiving can become a responsibility when someone is still a child at home with a parent or grandparent who needs their help because of an illness, or a spouse may find themselves assisting their husband or wife at a time when they might need some support too.
Interestingly, the number of hours spent on caregiving goes up with age. Caregivers who are between the ages of 18 and 49 average a little over 20 hours of care weekly, compared to those age 75 and older who average about 34 hours of care weekly.
According to the AARP/NAC report, 1 in 10 caregivers are 75 years of age or older. Conversely, almost 25% of today’s caregivers are between 18 and 34 years of age. Much like their middle age counterparts, millennial caregivers might be juggling multiple responsibilities, such as school, with caregiving. Caring.com awards scholarships to student caregivers annually so that these family caregivers can get a little financial assistance with tuition and books for school.
Backgrounds, lifestyle, employment and race are also distinctly different across the family caregiver spectrum. The AARP/NAC study showed that 9% of caregivers identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that the LGBT population is about 10% and that this group has more challenges than traditional (heterosexual) caregivers. For example, many people who identify as LGBT may have no contact with their birth family and therefore lack family support systems.
Also, experts say that people who identify as LGBT tend to be less likely to seek out support, which is so important for all caregivers who can become stressed and in need of care too.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. The theme this year is “Take Care to Give Care” which is a reminder to all caregivers—regardless of gender, age, the amount of time spent caregiving per week, lifestyle or any other unique categorization—to also care for their own well-being. Tips for self-care include eating healthy foods, rest, and taking a break from the caregiving role.
The Caregiver Action Network (CAN), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources for family caregivers, offers online tools for family caregivers to get the care they need.
What does it mean to be a family caregiver? For some people it means never taking a break and that's why the theme for November's National Family Caregiver Month is, "Caregiving Around the Clock."
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