Although people have been caring for others throughout history, the words "caregiver" and "caregiving" are fairly new to most people. Many people see caregiving as the normal expected duties of a husband, a wife, an adult child, a brother or sister or other family member. So, while some people may readily identify themselves as family caregivers, others are more reluctant. Rosalynn Carter said there are only four kinds of people, those who:

• have been caregivers,

• currently are caregivers,

• will be caregivers, and

• will need caregivers.

Family caregiving often starts with running errands and helping shop or manage legal and financial affairs. It sometimes escalates into more complex or more intimate tasks if the health of the person needing care declines.

There are a wide variety of caregiving experiences. Some individuals will provide care for a family member for a short period of time, possibly providing care for someone who has an illness or had surgery. Other caregivers may provide care for someone for many years or a life time. Research has shown that the average American woman will spend more time providing care to aging relatives than she will caring for minor children. (19 vs. 18 years).

Caregivers provide help in various roles. Some provide more hands-on help, such as helping someone take a bath, get dressed, get out of a chair or bed. Others may provide help with instrumental tasks, such as running errands, grocery shopping, and meal preparation.

Depending on the illness of the person receiving care, caregivers may provide more instrumental care at the beginning of their care journey, but over time they may provide more hands-on care. In either instance, providing care for someone can be very stressful.

Snapshots of Caregiving:

• Nationwide 80% of care is provided by family members.

• Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.

• The majority of caregivers (82%) care from one adult, while 15% care for two adults, and 3% for 3 or more adults.

The pool of family caregiving is dwindling, the need is increasing.

Approximately 3-6 million caregivers provide care from a distance (average of over 400 miles away).

There are approximately 524,000 caregivers in Oklahoma providing more than 488 million hours of care valued at more than $6 billion.

68 of 77 Oklahoma counties are considered rural.

Many areas of OK have a decline in population, leaving older adults to age-in-place with fewer services.

Caregiver Stressors:

• 55% feel overwhelmed by the amount of care family members need.

• 1 in 5 report physical strain due to caregiving duties.

• Caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty.

• 1 in 5 retirees left workforce early to care for family.

• $303,880 lost income and benefits on average over lifetime for family caregivers 50+.

Some of the risks associated with caregiving are:

Relational strains: tension may build up because families may have different opinions about how care should be provided, caregivers may also feel that other family members are not helping as much as they could, etc.

Research has shown that caregivers have a weakened immune system due to the high levels of stress they experience, which can increase their risk of becoming ill.

New research has begun to link providing care with an increased risk of dementia later in life.

A national study found that 84% of caregivers feel they do not have enough information or training to provide quality care for their loved one. This puts both the caregiver and care recipient at risk for either hurting themselves as a caregiver (ex. Improperly living someone) or the care recipient.

Tips for caregivers to move forward:

• Ask for help

• Communicate constructively

• Take care of your health

• Learn about care recipients’ disease

• Avoid isolation

• Talk with professionals

• Look for signs of burnout

• Give yourself a treat

• Take time for yourself

• Investigate local services

How can others offer to help caregivers? Small tokens of kindness can go along way.

Ask if you can fix dinner or help for an hour each week.

Ask the caregiver to make a list of their everyday tasks and ask to review it as to see where you can offer help with your talents.

Learn more about the care recipient’s disease as well so that you can search for local resources to help the caregiver.

Communicate with caregiver often as to offer socialization opportunities and support to decrease their likelihood of isolation or depression.

Offer to be with care recipient while caregiver keeps their own medical appointments.

Be available to listen and support them.

Rachel Lockwood is the Family Consumer Science Extension Educator with Pittsburg County OSU Cooperative Extension Service. For more information related to this topic or related FCS programs contact Rachel at 918-423-4120, email or on Pittsburg County OSU Website or find Pittsburg County OSU Extension Center or Pittsburg County OHCE on Facebook.

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