Letter to the Editor

Family caregivers need support

Friday, November 19, 2021

November is National Family Caregivers Month - a time to recognize and honor those who care for a child, teen or adult child with special health or behavioral needs or those who care for an adult with a chronic condition.

Family caregivers are unpaid family members, friends or neighbors who assist those who need help. More than 1 in 5 Americans - 53 million people - are providing unpaid care for someone with health or functional needs, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, a research survey conducted every five years by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. This represents an increase of nearly 10 million people from the 2015 survey.

More than 1 in 6 Americans who work full or part time report assisting in the care for a child with special needs, an adult-child family member or elderly relative or friend. Most caregivers do not abandon their caregiving responsibilities because of work. Instead, they often go unnoticed and cope as best they can to balance what are often conflicting sets of responsibilities.

Maybe your coworker is caring for her chronically ill spouse, or your neighbor is caring for his aging parent or your friend is caring for her adult child with a disability. These people are caregivers, though they might not think of themselves as such.

Research tells us that employed caregivers struggle to balance their time and energy between work and caregiving. They can become exhausted and stressed. Many struggle to balance the demands of work with the stresses of caregiving. The result can be poor health, mental distress, and less life satisfaction for the caregiver.

Historically, women are more likely to be caregivers, but this is changing. Today, 40 percent of caregivers are men, and many caregivers are of the millennial generation or younger, between the ages of 18 and 34. And not all caregivers are family members; these days, friends are increasingly likely to step in.

COVID-19 has added new stresses and challenges to family caregivers. Loneliness and isolation are serious risks affecting older adults whose normal routines were altered. For caregivers, keeping older adults at home safe and busy, while possibly working from home and monitoring children’s schoolwork and behavior has added higher levels of stress and anxiety - making caregivers more vulnerable to illness.

It can be challenging for caregivers to find the support that they need. During November, as well as throughout the year, consider providing respite for someone you know who provides care for a loved one. Offer to spend time with them or to learn how to help. Ask what you can do to make a difference.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” in many locations throughout the state as well as virtually. This educational offering provides information, support strategies, communication techniques, stress reduction ideas and resources to assist family caregivers with their concerns related to caregiving. For upcoming classes, contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office or ptcmastertrainers@iastate.edu. You can also find more information and upcoming classes online at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/ptc.