Counting on 43 Million Strong Caregivers

The title is not an error. There were 43.5 million caregivers helping friends and relatives in 2015. That number has only increased since. The economic value of family caregivers is huge – $470 billion. Yes, that is BILLIONS. Despite this economic might, family caregivers are nearly invisible.
That teenager with a mop of hair and a full grocery cart is shopping for her entire family because her mother is disabled. That tall gentleman loading some wood planks into a pickup truck is actually fixing his parents’ deck after a bad storm. That stylishly dressed young woman picking up prescriptions is on an errand for her grandparents. Would you know they were caregivers?

Caregivers do not have photo shoots, walk red carpets, cause scandals or cover front pages on a regular basis. Caregivers just get on with it day after day, month after month.

Who Are Caregivers?

You can be one and not know it. How would you know? Take this tiny quiz. art caregiver badge card
  • Do you do small tasks for your parents, relatives of any age or friends that they can’t do – install a small window air conditioner, assemble some furniture or take their car out for an oil change?
  • Do you help on a nearly regular schedule – pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy each month, balance their checkbook every few months or mow their lawn once a week?
  • Is your calendar/To Do list peppered with items for your parents, close friends or other relatives?
  • Do you accompany them to appointments with their doctors, lawyers, accountants and therapists?
If you answered yes to any of the four questions above, then you’re a caregiver. Your official membership card will be arriving in the mail.

What Do Family Caregivers Do?

When we hear the word “caregiver”, our mind imagines someone in uniform pushing a wheelchair, changing a bed or helping someone dress. That’s somewhat misleading. It’s not always about personal physical aid. Uniforms are optional.
A caregiver can:
  • Be a driver to appointments, shopping or visiting friends.
  • Deliver some delicious food every weekend.
  • Do the weekly laundry and cleaning.
  • Direct home care aids who visit each week.
  • Be a healthcare proxy for a relative, friend or neighbor and that’s all.
  • Pay all the bills and make all the household decisions on a loved one’s behalf.
A caregiver helps in different degrees. It’s a wide range starting at driving to the grocery store every two weeks up to living with aged parents full-time. Some loved ones will need or ask for more help than others. A caregiver has an escalating schedule of responsibilities the longer they’re caregiving.

Obstacle Meet Caregiver: ZAP!

The amount of care given rises and falls along with the loved one’s health. Some weeks are good as there’s an established routine and nothing disrupts it. Everyone has time to do the things they must do plus things they want to do.
Then comes a bad patch of a few days. Your charge falls or their health takes an unexpected downturn. Routine is the first thing thrown out the window.  The second thing is your own interests and time as your focus turns solely towards your loved one. You’re at the hospital in the mornings, doing errands in the afternoon and trying to rest at home in the evenings.
Caregiving is an endurance marathon run on a steeplechase course with you as the sole runner. Each day you start a new obstacle course. You choose which obstacles to avoid, skirt around or tackle head on.
walkers on hanging logs

Caregiver Benefits

Your reward at the end of the day – knowing you made it through another day. You get some satisfaction when things went well or better than the day before. Tangible rewards are few. Most family caregivers are unpaid. They squeeze caregiving in between jobs and their own busy family lives.
Pay for family caregivers is a political topic whose profile is rising and becoming more vocal. Perhaps, some day caregivers will be compensated in part or in full for the time and service they give to their family members.  Being able to live rent free and have a car in exchange for the responsibility of day to day care may be the most financial reward a caregiver can receive right now.
The intangible rewards are few but they can mean more in the long term.
  • Caregiving is revealing. You see your charge in every mood and situation. They may be your mother or father but when you’re the caregiver you see them as individuals. They had lives, dreams and ideas long before you came into their lives.
  • Caregiving can be a confidence booster. Few things in life challenges a person in every way as much as caregiving does. If you can manage a day spent at the hospital, the pharmacy, the store and then picking up your kids from school, future crazy days are far less maddening. You know you’ll get through it.
  • Caregiving grants wisdom. You will make many mistakes and you will learn from them. You will be forced to learn new things to do and your skills will grow. You will realize that there’s more than one way of thinking and grow as a person.

Caregivers Learn to Adapt

Whatever the situation, a family caregiver adapts. Over time, it becomes an unconscious method. Something happens, you adjust. You don’t think about having to adjust. No jotting down changes to your To Do list or caregiver notes. You simply find yourself going on automatic.
Instead of preparing the lunch you had planned, you reach for soup and some rolls because you know that after a hospital stay, your loved one will need soft foods for a day or two. You change routine and decide to do the grocery run the next morning instead of later in the day. Why? Because you know your mother will be sleeping most of the morning still fatigued from her recent illness.
graphical art of caregiver responsibilites

Finally

Is being a caregiver easy? No. It’s a job like any other. It requires time, energy, patience, commitment and a sense of humor to see the good and the bad.
One thing family caregiving is not – boring. You will be stretched psychologically, mentally and socially.  You will be forced out of your comfort zone time and again.
You will not be the same person you were before. Personal growth and wisdom are the  good consequences of the experience. You decide what that’s worth to you.

Maria is a Hubspot-certified digital marketer and blogger. This self-confessed rat race refugee left a 20+ year technology career to take on the challenges of family caregiving. She published her first Kindle novel Conway 6-7. Lately, she has been dabbling in interactive fiction game development. She is a Certified Caregiving Advocate and lives near Chicago.

9 Comments

  1. Chloe

    Reply

    This is a really nice post as there are lots of people out there who are willing to easily render assistance of other people and not think of collecting money from them. However this is my first time hearing about caregivers and it makes remember how I use to be jack of all trade when I was still a girl. I could do just about anyone in the house even better than my brothers. Thanks for sharing.

    • Maria

      Reply

      There are 2 kinds of caregivers – Professional Caregivers and Family Caregivers. A family caregiver is like a daughter who takes care of her elderly parents. A professional caregiver is someone paid to care for an elderly or disabled person. A professional caregiver can work for an agency or for private hire. As for training, a professional caregiver needs to know basic first aid and CPR, for example. There are short courses online that will teach you the basics. Check around your community (fire department maybe) for free CPR classes and get certified in that. To see if there are opportunities in your area, check the online newspapers in your area and ask at home care agencies for what they need/looking for in caregivers. There are usually more jobs than applicants. Caregivers can be live-in or can come for a set number of hours per day. Every situation will vary. 

      Caregiving can be a good vocation. Certainly, there will always be demand for it. I hope you look into it.

  2. C

    Reply

    Thank you, good article. I have heard a lot about caregiving in the last couple of years. Caregiving is necessary when someone in the family is not able to take care of themselves. Especially when the family can’t afford to hire a caregiver, the other family members end up having to be the caregivers. 

    This can be difficult for the other family members but the person still needs to be taken care of. I think you are article will be very encouraging to other caregivers. I do not currently have a lot of caregiving to do, but my aunt is kind of a caregiver for my grandmother. I am trying to build a good business so that I could help my parents or other relatives financially when they get older.

    thank you!

    • Maria

      Reply

      Most senior citizens and the disabled prefer to have members of their own family involved in their care. They feel more secure. Your family is very lucky that you are thinking ahead and planning on how you can help them in the future. That’s both sensible and wise. 

  3. Tracy

    Reply

    Hello, very interesting article you have written up here on weather interesting topic. Càrgiving is like a very easy and normal routine task that virtually anyone could get engaged with but actually, it entails more and demands a lot more. Care giving requires a higher level of diligence and commitment towards the people one is giving the care to. Also, since it is visible to everyone to do, most of us engage in it without actually paying attention to the fact that we are doing anything meaningful.  It just comes as a routine. That is exactly the kind of passion needed to ve a caregiver. Thumbs up

  4. Dane

    Reply

    I must confess this idea appeal to me as something really nice and anyone would love to try out (teen mostly). I have been heating alot about being a caregiver but I really don’t understand what they do and how it can be of benefits to the individual involved in it. However reading through this post have given me alot more better understanding of how the whole caregiver idea works. Best regards.

    • Maria

      Reply

      Hi Dane, 

      Caregiving is actually a good career track. The normal progression starts at Caregiver then Certified Nurses Aide (CNA) then Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Caregiver is an entry-level position. Besides an empathic nature, you would need to know basic first aid and CPR. The good news is that there are short course available on-line and within communities to teach those skills. 

      I would suggest that you find out of being a carer is something that you could do. Visit a nursing home. Some nursing homes have a Visitor Club or program where young people visit the home’s residents. They sit and talk for an hour or two. Most caregiving is about companionship first. See how the experience goes.

      If you wish to you can pursue caregiver certificates which can be done in a week or less. Inquire at home care agencies. Some offer free caregiver or helper training. After training, you can work for an agency or private hire for families who need a live-in caregiver or relief caregiver. You will learn skills that will serve you for the rest of your life. 

  5. Deb

    Reply

    Hi Maria,

    Firstly I want to congratulate yourself on a beautifully written and presented post that is also informative and interesting. You certainly tick all the boxes with this one.

    I know something of care-giving both on a personal and professional level. When I met my husband he had moved in with his father who had terminal cancer and so we started off our life together in a carer environment. My own mother and stepfather could do with some carer help but both my sister and I moved from New Zealand to Australia to find work after our first marriage breakdowns and we all continue to be impacted by that decision. Fortunately my parents are in a retirement community so they get a reasonable amount of professional carer support. 

    Professionally I am a social worker working in family services and there are lots of carers in that world. In Australia there is financial support for carers in the form of a pension and also when taking care of the children of family members in the form of “kinship payments”. This is great in many ways but not so great in others. I often see extended family fighting over young children for the kinship payments that they will get if awarded custody. These families are often little better than the ones the children are being “protected from”.

    What I would love to see is governments properly funding and monitoring foster care for children so that young children do not become a meal-ticket and have the opportunity to grow up in families where there is the capacity and the commitment to quality caring and parenting.

    Thank you for shedding light on this important issue.

    Deb 

    • Maria

      Reply

      Deb,

      Thank you for your kind words. Caregiving is one of those topics that can be so serious that no one wants to read about it. But it’s a topic that people need to be informed about. We are all going to need some kind of care at some point. 

      Here in the US, Medicare (health program for seniors, disabled) will pay for outside caregivers to help you at home for a few hours. As anyone who has ever had to take care of someone for an extended period of time will tell you, a few hours twice a week is not enough. The burden always returns to the family. With the aging population, compensation for family caregivers is being discussed. In some states, family caregivers can get a small stipend however the application criteria is very narrow. The family caregiver would have to stop working to qualify for the stipend and that is rarely possible. The stipend itself cannot sustain one person let alone a family. It’s not a living wage.

      The concept of kinship payments is good. Obviously, the execution needs fine tuning with provisions for auditing and proper inspection to prevent abuse to the children and the system itself. No system is perfect. However, it is gratifying that people are trying to devise and try possible solutions. 

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