They are the helpers.

They are the parents of a child with autism, the daughters of fathers with dementia.

They are the siblings, wise beyond their age, who must learn early that life is about caring for others, that compassion is of utmost importance.

They are the spouses who strain their own capacities in providing support to their loved one.

They are confidants.

And they are friends.

They’re also grandparents, aunts and uncles. They’re mothers. They’re overwhelmingly women. And they don’t get paid.

They are the caregivers.

They aid in daily tasks; personal hygiene; assist in dressing; administer medication; provide transportation; run errands; shop for groceries; prepare meals; coordinate care, including scheduling doctor visits and therapy sessions; navigate finances; and spend time researching information on specific conditions and disabilities.

“Today, more than 1 in 5 Americans [an estimated 53 million adults] are caregivers, having provided care to an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months,” according to latest research outlined in The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 update.

About half of primary caregivers report they’re assisted by others, including 14% who say at least one of those caregivers is a child under age 18, according to the report. This means “beyond the estimated 48 million caregivers of adults [caring for adults] in the United States, an additional 3.4 million child caregivers may be standing in their shadow,” the report states.

They are an invisible workforce whose contributions are immeasurable. They provide mentally and physically taxing labor, reporting their own physical, emotional and financial strain, according to the report. One in four find it difficult to take care of their own health.

They’re depleted, desperate and so very tired. Many want help but won’t ask for it. All want relief, but especially to just be understood. They search for solace in their contributions but are too overwhelmed to find it. They are lonely.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to contemplate all that family caregivers experience, a time when you can reach out to caregivers you know.

“Caregivers who cannot care for themselves may become unavailable to care for others,” states the 2020 report. “Likewise, caregivers have their own financial, health and wellness needs, which begs the question, Who will care for the caregivers?”

The answer is “We will, and this is how:”

First, consider whether you’re able to share in one of the more complex tasks of caregiving with someone you know. This priceless gift would relieve the primary caregiver of a great weight. If this isn’t possible, remember even small acts of kindness go a long way.

Deliver a meal, bring in your neighbor’s trash can, offer to babysit (for free). Offer to transport someone to a doctor’s appointment; leave a gift card for gas money; offer to vacuum or wash dishes; mow the lawn; pick up groceries or order a pizza. Let them know you’re thinking of them and trying your best to understand. Send a text. Or flowers. Let them know you’re there, that you see them.

Who is your 1 in 5, and how can you help?

Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.

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