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Caregiving is largely a woman's job. Still.

December 10, 2009 |  6:03 pm

Hands A new survey paints a portrait of people who make life infinitely better for those who can't take care of themselves and, by extension, everyone else: family caregivers.

The generalities won't be a surprise -- who's doing the caregiving (women mostly), conditions requiring care (old age and dementia) and the ultimate effects on the caregivers (over time, an increasing health toll). But, as always, the specifics are illuminating.

Among the findings of the report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, together with the MetLife Foundation:

- The average caregiver's age is 48.

- One-third of caregivers take care of more than one person.

- Caregivers have had this role for an average of 4.6 years.

Here's the executive summary. And the full report, with details on caregivers' daily lives and the circumstances under which they keep those lives together.

For caregivers looking for a bit of support, there's Family Caregiving 101. It begins with a Top 10 Questions list of frequent queries...

(Of note, Families for Depression Awareness offers "Caring for a depressed elderly parent" among its list of podcasts.)

And don't forget the National Family Caregivers Assn., the Family Caregiver Alliance and, of course, the National Institute on Aging.

Each offers resources, information and the reassurance that, though it may seem so, caregivers are not alone.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (4)

My Mom (who is 66 years old) takes care of my elderly aunt (86 years old). My mother works a full time job as a nurse and has to come home and take care of my aunt. It is very frustrating because it's a role that my Mom never planned on taking on, especially because my aunt has refused to do the proper exercise that would help to keep her mobile. My Mom is doing the best that she can, especially since there is no one else to do it, but it has taken a big toll on her. I have my own family and help out where I can. But I realize that it is a responsibility many of us will have to face.

The needs of caregivers had not been getting enough discussion as we debate health care reform. Family caregivers save the health system billions of dollars. It should be noted that for every older person in a nursing home, there is at least one other older person who is ill enough to live in a nursing, but does not because someone is caring for them at home. This caregiver is often making a huge personal and financial sacrifice to care for their loved one.

These resources for caregivers are essential, but even more are needed. The last thing any child wants to do is put a parent or loved one into a nursing facility. Yet, that’s the horrendous decision caregivers face when they’re unable to secure the support they need.

As a caregiver myself, I was appalled at the lack of services available to caregivers who give so much of themselves to provide love and care to their family members. I wrote my book, "If Only I'd Had This Caregiving Book" to be a resource for these selfless caregivers and to provide them with strategies that would keep their loved ones safe and happy and their own mental health in tact. It is a reality that many of us will have to face, and the more support we can gain for caregivers will ensure that families are able to stay together and stay healthy.

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