Consider these few statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association at http://alz.org/facts/overview.asp – “More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2015, more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid caregiving, which had an estimated economic value of $221.3 billion.”
These startling statistics relate to just one disease that strikes older adults and their families across our country. What about the number of caregivers who are caring for older adults with diabetes, those who may have had a stroke, those recovering from falls, younger family members, and so on?
A more comprehensive picture is painted by statistics from the National Alliance for Caregiving (2015): Caregiving in the US – “Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.” Further, the AARP Public Policy Institute reported in the Valuing the Invaluable 2015 Update, “The value of services provided by informal caregivers has steadily increased over the last decade, with an estimated economic value of $470 billion in 2013, up from $450 billion in 2009 and $375 billion in 2007.”
But caregiving is about much more than statistics. It’s about people caring for others they care about – a spouse, parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, or a newer acquaintance who has no one else to turn to. It’s about making appointments, remembering medications, preparing meals, cleaning the house, visiting, consoling, dressing, bathing, running errands, patching up relationships, reminiscing, sleepless nights, time away from work and family, and so much more.
Caregivers truly are our everyday heroes. But they can’t do it alone. There’s help out there, through resources such as:
Along with accessing a wide array of resources, it is so important to establish communications and relationships with your loved one’s healthcare team, which will help the caregiver understand the disease more fully, establish their presence as the primary caregiver which should include an opportunity for caregiver support, and open the door to discussions about their involvement in decision making and helping their loved one comply with medical orders.
And let’s not forget about the important assistance technology can provide for caregivers. Much work is being done in this area. Aging in Place Technology Watch provides a listing of announcements of the latest technology advances that could be helpful to caregivers and families at https://www.ageinplacetech.com/category/category-tags/family-caregivers. And Caregivers and Technology: What They Want and Need (2016) from AARP Project Catalyst, offers a guide for innovators through research from a nationally representative sample of America’s 40 million family caregivers.
So, look around your neighborhood. How many of your neighbors are involved in raising their families, working one or two jobs, and providing care for a loved one today? Chances are they could use some help – understanding what resources are available to them in the community, having access to a home-cooked meal, or maybe just receiving a pleasant “Hi, how are you?” greeting that could change their day! You may just be in the right place at the right time to offer a bit of help to the hero next door!