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In a world that demands care for its aging population, it’s dangerous to ignore the burden on caregivers

January 27, 2023, 7:00 PM UTC
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We are witnessing the largest population of aging seniors in U.S. history, a number that is projected to reach 80.8 million by 2040—not to mention the 61 million individuals living with disabilities. These numbers beg the question—who is responsible for caring for these people?

Roughly one in five Americans are providing unpaid care to an adult with some classification of health or functional needs, consuming, on average, 20 hours per week of their time—in essence, a part-time job without any compensation that costs them upwards of 25% of their salary on out-of-pocket expenses. 

Given the growing population of aging seniors in this country, 65,000 individuals are stepping into a caregiving role every single day. At this very moment the majority of the population either has been a caregiver, is currently a caregiver, or will be a caregiver at some point in their lifetime. So if there was any question as to whether or not this crisis pertains to you or anyone you know—the answer is a resounding yes.

When we’re dealing with various populations in need—seniors, adults, or even children—the focus remains laser-sharp and clear around that individual’s specific and often urgent needs. How are they feeling today? What do they need that I can provide? What appointments are on the agenda? Did I remember to administer all of the correct medications? Did I just miss a phone call? Is there an emergency?

There’s no doubt that the past few years have drastically changed our way of living, practically bullying us into a remote and virtual existence. On one hand, we are experiencing convenience like never before, while on the other, many feel isolated and out-of-touch with advanced technology that may not always be user-friendly. Countless organizations have presented robotic tech targeted towards the senior population in an effort to address several of the challenges they face as they age, but these solutions lack intuition and practicality, adding very little value to the senior, and are no help to the caregiver.

According to an AARP report, more than 75% of seniors want to age in the comfort of their own home as opposed to a long-term assisted living facility. Chances are their family and friends live in a different neighborhood, city, or state, but that doesn’t necessarily alleviate them of the responsibility or obligation of assuming the role of caregiver. In a mere moment, their entire life could change—suddenly in addition to caring for their own immediate family and holding a full-time job, they are now contributing their time, money, and energy to meet the needs of their aging loved one.

It’s nearly impossible to put into words the physical, mental, and emotional stress experienced by any caregiver. There’s an unspoken expectation to be selfless, flexible, and available at all times. Caregiving is an admirable and heroic act, yet so many are suffering—and more often than not, doing so in silence. So while many experts have failed to answer the question—how can we provide better care for our aging population—we, as a society, must rise to the occasion and explore how we can better support our caregivers. 

In the short-term, there are a few steps a caregiver can take to self-advocate in a world that’s slow to offer a solution or support, or simply fails to see their struggle. These steps may seem obvious—or at times even daunting—but could make a significant difference in how caregivers make it through each day.

Acknowledge your new role

Oftentimes a person is thrust into a caregiving role without any warning or awareness, forcing them to tap into a brand new skillset. Take ownership of your role as a caregiver and fully embrace all that comes with it. You might find taking ownership of this responsibility makes it easier to ask for help or to take the initiative to establish an organizational system that promotes success. 

Build a team

There is immense strength in community. Identify a network of friends and family closest to you and lean on them. At the very least, having someone you can depend on to listen and provide a safe space for your emotions and frustrations can often ease stressful burdens. Identify a community of individuals you trust, and give them a chance to help pick up the pieces when there’s a shortage of time or energy.

Ask for help

Yes, it’s been mentioned in both of the previous steps, but it is that important. A challenging concept for so many in any situation, but historically, people in a caregiving role do not ask for help. As humans, it makes us feel good to help others, but in order to give one another that chance, we have to ask. 

Seek financial guidance

Caregiving is a costly responsibility. Research shows that more than 60% of caregivers are women—and we’re still living in a world in which women earn less than men, so these out-of-pocket expenses are challenging to manage. There may be local government assistance for certain states, but in most cases caregivers are left to their own devices to budget, save, invest, and manage their assets, and this is a scenario in which it may pay off (literally) to seek support from a financial advisor.

Caregiving is selfless, a labor of love, and a chance to turn the tables and repay our parents and loved ones for the care they provided us—but it also requires sacrifice, is deeply challenging, and can feel like an inescapable burden. Without awareness of the magnitude of this reality or the struggles millions are facing—and that millions more will soon face—we will remain ill-equipped to support those who find themselves thrust into this crucial role. There is no easy answer, but one thing is crystal clear: we must bridge the gap in support caregivers receive—and soon—or risk a rise in caregiver burnout that will be nearly impossible to correct.

Avanlee Christine is the CEO and founder of Avanlee Care, an all-in-one app that enables remote caregiving so those in need live healthier and happier lives at home.

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