Almost half of caregivers looking after a loved one with a disability or special needs took on the responsibilities by default – a job that on average spans nine years, according to a new study.
For many, the role of family caregiver is assumed without question, and can be a rewarding job. But it can also take a toll on the individual’s own financial, mental, emotional and physical needs, as well as impact future retirement security. Caregiving can consume a person’s schedule, require time away from the workplace, incur out-of-pocket expenses and become draining when juggling other everyday chores and necessities.
Seven in 10 caregivers said they were so focused on the responsibilities of caregiving that they put off addressing their own needs, according to Fidelity Investments’ 2022 American Caregivers Study, which surveyed 766 U.S. adults who act as a family caregiver to a loved one. Almost 8 in 10 survey respondents said they currently or intend to rely on a combination of the family member’s work income as well as their own, and another 74% said they rely or expect to rely on government benefits to pay for care.
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The number of Americans who assumed the role of unpaid family caregiver rose from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP study. There were also increases in the numbers of Americans caring for more than one person or caring for someone with dementia. Almost a quarter of family caregivers said the job made their own health worse, the study found.
The pandemic has added to the stresses on families with a loved one in need, or provided some insight into what family caregiving could become in the future. A third of Fidelity’s respondents said they have permanently lost or reduced income, and 40% said they expect ongoing challenges through the pandemic for finding resources and securing health care for their loved ones. Two-thirds of participants said they felt more isolated from the pandemic, and 24% said they are afraid this may be “a long-term situation.”
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Having a plan helps – in multiple areas of caregiving, Fidelity said. Individuals taking on these responsibilities should think carefully and plan for their and their loved ones’ finances during caregiving, as well as their own self-care and communication with other family members. These conversations can be difficult to have but discussing roles, responsibilities, expectations and finances before the caregiving begins can relieve some of the stresses of the job, for everyone involved.