By Kristin Schultz
God’s gift of family is not only a personal blessing but the glue that holds communities and society together. The bond we have with our parents, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents is unique among all other relationships. Family bonds are not the same as the bonds we have with our co-workers or college friends. Being in a loving family is a great joy.
So, when someone in our family cannot care for themselves, we step in. We step up. Many of us become caregivers. In ministry, we tend to focus on those in our midst who are sick or frail or who can’t get out or who have other special needs. And we should. We are called to pray for the sick and the hurting. But often, these people are being cared for by family members outside of professional medical settings. While the family may be supportive and glad to be able to care for their loved one, constantly caring for another is often thankless and stressful.
Many times, caregivers put off their own needs in order to meet the needs of others. Many times, the caregivers themselves need care.
Who is the typical caregiver and for whom are they caring?
According to a 2020 study from AARP . . .
- 53 million Americans report being caregivers—an increase of nearly 5 million in the last 5 years.
- 61 percent of caregivers are women.
- The average age of a caregiver is 49 years old.
- 24 percent of caregivers are caring for two or more adults.
- 2 out of every 3 care recipients are women.
- 59 percent of caregivers care for a parent or parent-in-law.
- Most care recipients are over the age of 75.
The challenges they face . . .
Most caregivers choose to provide care to their loved one. Even those who felt like they didn’t have a choice in providing care often feel privileged or glad to care for someone who has given so much to them.
The job of the caregiver is not always an easy one. More than half of caregivers are employed full-time which means they are working, caring for a loved one, and taking care of their own household duties. If these caregivers are caring for someone who does not live with them, the caregiver is likely spending many hours away from their own home running errands or cleaning their loved one’s home. These caregivers are essentially running two households and working full time.
Other caregivers choose to make space in their homes for a parent to move in. This arrangement brings its own challenges as the home may need to be retrofitted to accommodate mobility issues or require the installation of safety devices like bars in the bathroom or shower. People caring for relatives with dementia or other cognitive issues may not be able to leave the person alone in the house and may have to arrange special (and sometimes expensive) respite care just to go get groceries.
As a parent or loved one ages, his or her needs may change and become more intense which puts additional stress on caregivers. For example, a parent who moved in with a child may have needed help only with daily tasks. But as years tick on, that same parent may become less and less able to care for himself and may eventually require help with bathing and using the restroom. That is to say, what a caregiver initially thought he or she was taking on may eventually require more intensive support and care.
Deciding to care for a loved one is a selfless and often life-altering act that most people are willing to take on when necessary. It is a way to try to return the same love they have received. However, caregivers must be mindful of their own mental and physical health so they can continue to care for their loved ones.
According to the CDC . . .
- 7 percent of caregivers get fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night.
- 5 percent reported 14 or more days they felt mentally unwell per month.
- 6 percent reported 14 or more days they felt physically unwell per month.
- 7 percent of caregivers have 2 or more chronic diseases themselves, including heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
The stress of caring for someone else can lead to physical and emotional problems, including feelings of isolation, depression, strained relationships with a spouse or children, and financial problems. If left unchecked, what starts as a couple of sleepless nights can quickly develop into bigger problems that actually make the caregiver less able to provide care.
While family is God’s gift to us, it is often stressful and complicated. For caregivers, that stress can be overwhelming and, ironically, have negative health effects. As the number of caregivers increases, we must be mindful of the challenges they face. We pray for the sick and the aging. Let’s also pray for those who give of themselves to care.
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