By Marina Renton
A high-stress job that requires a full-time commitment for no pay.
What kind of work fits that description? The answer should resonate with more than 43 million Americans: unpaid family caregiving.
As the population ages and more people need care, the ratio of available family caregivers to care recipients is declining, and efforts to support family caregivers are beginning to make headway in the political sphere.
Among those who need that support most: “higher-hour” caregivers, who spend more than 21 hours a week on caregiving, according to “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015,” a report released this summer by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Ask Massachusetts resident Diane Gwynne, 56. After her mother’s sudden death this past December, Gwynne found herself trying to balance her career and household responsibilities with caring for her 92-year-old father, who has dementia.
“I was so overwhelmed,” Gwynne said of when she first started caring for her father. “It was so sudden. I didn’t even know where to turn.”
Last year, Gwynne’s mother had an intuition that the Christmas of 2014 would be the family’s last. Gwynne’s mother was in her 80s and her father was seven years older, in his 90s. Both were feeling the effects of age.
“My mother said, ‘I want to put all the decorations up, because I think this is going to be our last year all together,’ ” Gwynne recalls. Her mother, it turned out, was unknowingly predicting her own death: She passed away just before the New Year.
Suddenly, her bereaved children found themselves managing the estate, taking their father to medical appointments, and making arrangements for his day-to-day care.
Caregivers By The Numbers
“Caregiving in the U.S. 2015,” a report that comes out every few years and aims to profile the nation’s family caregivers, looks at the demographics of family caregivers, along with the emotional, physical and financial challenges they face.
Based on the results of online interviews with 1,248 adult caregivers who provide care to adults, the report offers a quantitative snapshot of the country’s caregivers. Among its findings:
• Approximately 43.5 million adults in the country have provided some form of unpaid care to an adult or child with special needs in the past year.
• About 39.8 million Americans have cared for an adult (over 18 years old), and 34.2 million an adult over 50, in the past year. In other words, about 18 percent of U.S. adults have shouldered some unpaid caregiving responsibilities in the past year.
• The average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for a relative. (Eighty-five percent of caregivers look after a relative, 49 percent a parent or in-law.)
• Less than a third of unpaid caregivers retain some kind of paid help.
While she had helped out both her parents in recent years, it wasn’t until her mother’s death that Gwynne and her sister became the primary caregivers for their father.