By Robert Preidt
MONDAY, Oct. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- More than 1.3 million American children and teens care for family members with physical or mental illness or substance abuse problems, and these children are at risk for poor health and school failure themselves, a new study shows.
This "hidden population" of young caregivers suffers physical and emotional stress due to their caregiving duties, wrote study author Dr. Julia Belkowitz, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
She and her colleagues studied youth caregivers in Palm Beach County, Fla. Their median age was 12, and 63 percent were girls while 37 percent were boys.
The children said they spent a median of two hours each school day and four hours each weekend day doing caregiver tasks at home. Family members said youth caregivers spent 1.5 hours a day on weekdays and 2.75 hours a day on weekends doing caregiver tasks.
Their tasks included helping family members with getting around, eating, dressing, bathing, using the toilet, and continence care. The youth caregivers also kept the family members company and offered emotional support, gave medications, translated during medical visits, handled medical equipment at home, cleaned the house and did grocery shopping.
The study was presented recently at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in San Diego.
"This study is an important step toward raising awareness about the issue of caregiving youth," Belkowitz said.
She and her colleagues worked on the study with the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY).
"Today in the U.S., there are many more than the 1.3 million children identified in 2005 who face the challenges of juggling adult-sized responsibilities of caring for ill, injured, aging or disabled family members while trying to keep up at school," Connie Siskowski, founder and president of AACY, said in the news release.
Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.