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1 in 3 Adults in U.S. Is a Caregiver

Typical Caregiver Is a Woman in Her Late 40s Taking Care of an Elderly Parent, Study Finds
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 11, 2009 -- About one in three adults in the United States cares for a loved one who is elderly, sick, or has special needs. And two out of three unpaid caregivers are women, a new report finds.

More often than not, caregivers are raising families and working outside the home in addition to caring for aging parents, chronically ill spouses, or children or grandchildren with special needs.

The report, commissioned by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with the AARP and the insurance group MetLife, resulted from interviews with nearly 1,500 caregivers chosen at random. Similar interviews were conducted in 2004 and 1997.

Some 65 million American adults are providing care to loved ones independent of traditional parenting roles, Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president of Livable Communities Strategies for AARP, tells WebMD.

She says the typical caregiver is a woman in her late 40s caring for a parent, most often her mother, who is in their late 70s or older.

“Caregiving is traditionally women’s work,” she says. “And women are usually juggling work and family responsibilities while they are providing this care.”

Old Age, Alzheimer’s Major Reason for Care

The survey found that:

  • 70% of caregivers were taking care of loved ones who were 50 years old or older. 
  • Caregivers provided an average of 20 hours per week of care. 
  • Caregiving lasted an average of 4.6 years. 
  • Older care recipients generally needed help because of deteriorating physical health (76%). More than half (51%) still lived in their own homes and 29% lived in their caregiver’s home. 
  • Old age was cited as the main reason for needed care, by 12% of respondents, followed by Alzheimer’s disease (10%), mental or emotional illness (7%), cancer (7%), heart disease (5%), and stroke (5%).

Ginzler says nearly three out of four caregivers who responded to the survey had paid jobs outside the home, and two-thirds said they had missed work as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.

She says the findings highlight the need for more support services for caregivers.

AARP has long pushed for a $3,000 tax credit for caregivers, and 56% of the survey respondents ranked a tax credit as important to them.

Health Care Debate Includes Caregivers

The tax credit is not a part of the sweeping health care legislation now being crafted by Congress, but Ginzler says the bill under consideration does include provisions that would help family caregivers.

Among the most ambitious is the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, authored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. The act provides for a national, voluntary insurance program to help Americans pay for long-term care.

Under the proposed plan, workers who do not opt out of the program would pay premiums through payroll deductions for disability and long-term care insurance.

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