Just over half of people 50 and older in the U.S. regularly help an older adult with health, personal and other care needs. It may come as no surprise that a majority points to emotional or physical exhaustion as the steepest price they pay.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the more than 2,100 adults randomly sampled for a poll about caregiving say that helping an older adult is more rewarding than not.
In July, the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging surveyed 2,163 adults 50-80 years old in the U.S. about their experiences helping a 65-plus adult with their care needs. That includes making or attending doctor appointments; cleaning house or doing yard work; shopping or preparing meals; paying bills or banking; dressing or bathing; managing medications; and coordinating care and health insurance.
The poll wanted to get at what kind of assistance is being offered to help older adults age in place rather than the level of support or its intensity, says Courtney Polenick, PhD, a caregiver researcher and assistant professor in the UM Department of Psychiatry. As the senior population is set to explode in the next few decades, it is important to learn where help is most needed – and how those helping need support, she says.
The report showed that 65% of caregivers say they struggle with emotional and physical fatigue, work-caregiving balance, time for themselves, and balancing time with family and friends, in that order.
Those helping an older adult with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia – 28% of those surveyed — found caregiving to be the most stressful.
Other findings of the report:
• Married/partnered people with college degrees are more likely to be care providers
• Just over half of caregivers are 50 to 64 years old
• Men make up 51% of the caregiving force; females make up 56% (The reported percentages use survey weights to reflect nationally representative estimates)
• The most common task caregivers reported doing in the last two years was helping an older adult with doctors
• Two-thirds of people caring for an older adult do not live with them
• About half of those surveyed said they help with 1-2 tasks; 29% reported helping with five or more care tasks.
Polenick says the results of the survey weren’t surprising, but there were other “notable” findings, including that 96% of those polled reported at least one positive aspect of helping.
“We often think of helping an older person as stressful. However, an interesting finding is almost all the people who provide assistance to older adults experience rewards: two-thirds reported at least one challenge, but nearly all are getting some type of reward. It was a finding I was happy to see,” she says.
A benefit, more than half of those polled said, was feeling appreciated.
But nearly 60% of adults who provide care for older adults said it’s made them more aware of their own future health and personal care needs – a finding Polenick finds hopeful.
The National Poll on Healthy Aging reports on data collected by NORC at the University of Chicago for UM’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
Caregiver Coaching, a new program offered by the agency, aims to ease caregiving by connecting caregivers with trained volunteer coaches who can help them navigate resources, work through challenges, and sometimes just listen.
Communications are typically by phone or Zoom using specific, HIPPA-compliant software to protect confidentiality and privacy. Partners set their own schedule.
The program is available to people who live in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties or to anyone who takes care of a loved one in one of those counties.
To learn more about the program, call (800) 852-7795, email [email protected], or visit micaregivercoach.org.
Caregivers: Take Care
Caregiving for a loved one can be stressful, as studies have repeatedly shown.
Just one of those, the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report by AARP, found that from 2015 to 2020, caregivers’ health declined. It didn’t matter the age of the care recipient, hours of care provided, whether the caregiver was low- or high-income, married or unmarried, or whether the person chose to be a caregiver or not.
Staying healthy means taking care of oneself, another finding of multiple caregiving studies.
“We need to remember that we must take responsibility for our own health and well-being. It’s important for us to take care of ourselves so that we can then help others. If our health diminishes, who will be there for the person we are caring for?” says Jeannine Roach, manager of health promotion at the Area Agency on Aging 1-B.
Roach and Julie Lowenthal, the agency’s coordinator of volunteer & caregiver services, offer these tips for caregivers:
• Be realistic about what you can and cannot do to help yourself and others
• Schedule time for yourself each day or at least a few times a week to do something you enjoy
• Decide what you are going to do, when you will do it, how much will you do, and how often. The more specific you can be, the more likely you will be to do it
• Temper your expectations of your loved one(s)
• Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help is a strength
• Celebrate the milestones of your experience
• Know that self-care is paramount in your journey as caregiver
Content courtesy of Area Agency on Aging 1-B.