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Caregiver support: An overview of the world of caregiving

Finding the right balance while caring for loved ones takes patience, resources … and a village.

Taking care of aging or ailing parents has become the norm for many people today. While caregiving can be hard, helping loved ones keep their independence as long as possible can be fulfilling and satisfying with the right support.

A growing need for caregivers

Even though the pandemic reduced life expectancies, more and more Americans are living into their 90s and beyond.1 In the future, the Census Bureau predicts that Americans will live much longer than they do now — going from a life expectancy of 79.7 years to 85.6 years (by 2060).2 And with those added years come an increase in chronic health conditions — including Parkinson’s, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s, among others.

More than 40 million adults in the United States — or 17 percent of the U.S. adult population — provide unpaid care to an adult older than 50. Women do the bulk of the caregiving, at 75 percent.3

Providing care could mean helping family members with daily activities — such as bathing, grooming and transportation — as well as helping them manage their finances and being a friend, companion, decision maker and advocate. This invaluable support can mean the difference between family members remaining in their homes and moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home.

But caring for family members can have unintended consequences on families. Thankfully, while challenges exist, so do support systems and resources to help.

The many faces of caregivers

Because so many Americans are caring for loved ones, they span all ages and life stages:

  • Average age of caregivers is 50.1 years old3
  • 23.7 hours per week is the average time caregivers spend providing unpaid care for loved ones not in their home; conversely, 37.4 hours per week is the average amount of time they care for someone who lives with them3
  • The free labor caregivers provide is valued at $600 billion annually. That’s an increase of $130 billion since the previous report in 20194

The sandwich generation poses unique challenges

A growing population of caregivers are part of the “sandwich generation,” a term first used in the 1980s to describe women who were “sandwiched” between taking care of young children and aging parents. Since then, it has grown to include all adult children — both genders — caring for their parents, while raising kids of their own.

Fun fact: More men had their turn to shine during the pandemic, when they were working from home.

Also changing is the generation of caregivers caught in the middle. In 2020, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) shared equal responsibility. In 2023, more millennials (66 percent) than Gen Xers (23 percent) found themselves caring for both their dependents and their parents.5

Some sandwich generation caregivers are supporting adult children who might still live at home and possibly even their grandchildren. Recently, half of young adults ages 18 to 29 are living with a parent. And some of these adult children have children of their own. Grandchildren living in these multigenerational homes is on the upswing, increasing from 28 percent to 30 percent.6

It’s not a prerequisite for adult children to live with a parent to get their financial help. According to a recent Pew Study, 29 percent of caregivers who also had adult children were helping them with their finances.6

Also, 72 percent of sandwich generation members in a Pew Research Survey report that they provide some form of financial support to their parents.2

Coupled with the younger generation failing to launch is the fact that the older generation is living longer.

This leads to some unique challenges for working parents in the sandwich generation. Not only are many juggling a full-time job with their home life — household to-dos, errands, meal prep, laundry, getting kids to soccer practice — they’re also managing and providing care for a parent in the span of just one day.

These changes can create a change in a family’s dynamics. All of this can lead to a great amount of stress. One third of sandwiched caregivers have high levels of emotional stress.2

Caregiving can lead to stress

Taking care of loved ones with chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia or a long-term physical condition can cause great stress. In fact, according to a recent AARP report, 36 percent of the 53 million unpaid caregivers report that they suffer from caregiver stress, which can lead to burnout.7

According to a report on caregiver burnout, 14 percent of caregivers surveyed experienced frequent mental distress. The biggest challenge for many caregivers is dealing with the emotional stress of juggling caregiving and working. It’s no surprise that caregivers (more than 50 percent) find it difficult to care for their own mental health and 40 percent have difficulty relaxing and often feel alone.8

Caregiving isn’t just emotionally stressful — it can lead to physical stress as well. Depression and anxiety; a weakened immune system; excess weight and obesity; heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis; and issues with short-term memory and attention are all things that caregivers can develop over time.9

The costs of caregiving

In addition to psychological and physical impacts, caregiving can cause undue stress on a family’s finances. 

Whether it’s paying for prescription medications, installing a ramp for a wheelchair-bound care recipient, or purchasing consumable supplies, caregiving can have a significant financial impact. The average family spends about $7,000 in out-of-pocket caretaking services each year.10 It can be for such things as housing, health care, and transportation.11

One way to help offset some of the costs is to be a paid family caregiver through government payment programs and paid leaves of absence from work.10

Hidden costs

Many caregivers report experiencing a financial impact as a result of caregiving. In fact, one in five adults take on caring for family and loved ones — without being reimbursed — with a health problem.11

Beyond the immediate costs, caregivers may also face other negative impacts such as withdrawing from savings, taking on additional debt, paying bills late, or decreasing their contributions to retirement savings, investments or Social Security benefits.

More than half (61 percent) of working caregivers report that their extra responsibilities have impacted their jobs, resulting in them arriving late, leaving early, taking time off, and retiring early.11

A bigger impact on working women

Working female caregivers may suffer a higher level of economic hardship than everyone else — mostly due to lost wages from reduced work hours, time out of the workforce, family leave, early retirement or a shorter time contributing to a retirement plan or Social Security.

Planning for future care

As people age, having a strategy for dealing with future health care costs and access to the right support services can make a real difference for their caregivers. 

This allows children or family members to remain in their caregiving role longer, with less stress and greater satisfaction. It also means financial peace of mind. Caregivers don’t have to worry about how to pay for care and can focus on making the best care decisions. 

These actions can help provide peace of mind for both the person needing care and the future caregiver — and ease physical and mental stress.

Build an emergency fund

Experts recommend building an emergency fund that could cover up to 3–6 months’ worth of living expenses. For most people, that can add up to an intimidating number that can discourage even the best-intentioned saver. Here are some tips to help get started.

Consider automatic savings for healthcare expenses

Saving in a health savings account through your employer can help cover future, non-reimbursed medical costs. Money from each of your paychecks is automatically deposited into a designated account that you can use for deductibles, copays and medications. 

Have a secured line of credit

If emergency savings or other type of cash reserve is not an option, some financial professionals suggest a line of credit secured by your home as a short-term option if you can repay the loan quickly, since they generally offer lower interest rates.

Consider insurance options

Different insurance options, such as life insurance with a long-term care or chronic illness rider, a life/long-term care hybrid product, or individual long-term care insurance, are designed to provide a benefit that can help pay for care expenses.

Talk to loved ones

It’s important to discuss your future care plan with loved ones so they know what to expect when the time comes. What type of care do you want? How involved would you like them to be with your care? Who is your power of attorney? Discussing these things ahead of time helps ensure everyone is on the same page before the unexpected happens.

Educate yourself about government benefits

Medicare and Medicaid are the main government programs that provide benefits for care, but they may not cover all your expenses. Understanding how each program works and what they do and do not cover can help avoid surprises down the road.

Caregiver support systems benefit everyone

Strong support systems can benefit everyone affected by a chronic condition, including caregivers.

Strategies to manage the demands of caregiving

Here are some strategies to help you manage the demands associated with caring for someone who has a chronic illness:

  • Find time to relax — even if you have to schedule it. Visit friends, take a day off, see a movie. Do something that rejuvenates you and makes you happy. And if you can see the humor in something, do so. Some refer to it as a survival mechanism.
  • Eat balanced meals, get proper rest, and visit a doctor about any recurring health problems.
  • Join a support group or seek out a counselor to help relieve feelings of anger, frustration and isolation. It’s important to realize you are not alone in your situation or your feelings.
  • Find local and state resources that can offer physical, emotional and psychological support to you. Ask for help from your friends, family, or community.
  • Research local organizations that offer guidance and additional caregiving assistance.
  • Meet with professionals about legal, financial or long-term health issues and come up with a strategy before you need them.
  • Also: Practice setting realistic boundaries, take deep breaths throughout your day, and get outside for at least 20 minutes each day (10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon)7

Good health to you — and to those in your care!

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1. Clinton, Michael. “The Profound Effect of Americans Living Longer Lives,” esquire.com, January 24, 2022.

2. Helm, Leonie. “Why the Forgotten Sandwich Generation Are Surviving but ‘Not Really Living,’” newsweek.com, March 24, 2023.

3. Samuels, Claire. “Caregiver Statistics: A Data Portrait of Family Caregiving in 2023,” aplaceformom.com, June 15, 2023.

4. “New Report Highlights Increasing Cost of Family Caregiving in the U.S.,” aarp.com, March 8, 2023.

5. de Visé, Daniel. “What is the 'sandwich generation'? Many adults struggle with caregiving, bills and work,” usatoday.com, November 17, 2023.

6. Chang, Elizabeth. “The sandwich generation is changing. The stress remains,” washingtonpost.com, March 22, 2023.

7. Ganobsik, Kirstie. “Dealing with caregiver stress and burnout: a guide,” aarp.com, March 22, 2023.

8. AARP staff. “Caregiver burnout: Tips to prevent and manage stress,” aarp.com, October 13, 2023.

9. “Caregiver stress: The impact on physical health,” ncoa.org, October 7, 2022.

10. Lewis, Kara. “How to get paid to be a caregiver for parents: programs, strategies, and steps,” aplaceformom.com, May 4, 2023.

11. Thompson, Dennis. “Caregiving’s financial toll is often hidden,” usnews.com, November 7, 2023.


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