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11/1: What is Family Caregiving?

November 1, 2015

When I see my aging parents, I now know that I will be their family caregiver. Ten years ago, this phrase “family caregiver” would have been alien to me. I would have merely described that I am the only child so it’s only natural for me to want to make sure my parents are safe and happy in their golden years. 

Little did I know that a whole world exists in the phrase family caregiving. In fact, unbeknownst to them, one in six Americans are considered a family caregiver by policymakers and providers. It is a world that is difficult and lonely.

Solving the problems faced by family caregivers will cut our healthcare costs by one-third. It’s an enormous opportunity. In particular, as we begin National Family Caregiver Month, we can highlight four trends in family caregiving that matter:

The who is changing

Traditionally, spouses cared for each other. However, as both spouses live longer (or one spouse passes away), adult children are increasingly involved in care. In a survey I just deployed to 16,000 adults over age 50, 80% reported being involved in a parent’s care either today or in the past. 

The what is changing

In the past, major medical illnesses such as multiple heart attacks, late stage cancers, and strokes created roles for family members that were intense but short-lived. Now, with the population aging well past age 80, conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia mean caregiving can last ten or more years.

The where is changing

Nearly everyone recognizes how global the world has become. This is also the case with family caregiving. Many adult children find themselves hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from mom and dad. Here in Silicon Valley, companies such as Google, Intel, and Apple seek solutions for their employees whose aging parents are halfway around the world.

The how is changing

We are seeing a shift from unpaid caregiving to paid caregiving. In family caregiving today, over $500 billion of unpaid caregiving occurs in the U.S. each year. However, progressive states such as Massachusetts and Indiana have recently started programs where family members can stay home and be paid a small stipend to care for an aging or disabled loved one. Every little bit helps. Moreover, the private pay home care industry is growing at double or triple the rate of the aging demographic. Family members usually make the decision to hire this paid help at home: an indication that people are starting to pay for care in greater numbers.

As Medicare, Social Security, and other programs balloon with the aging population, more attention will be given to this alien field of family caregiving. Its importance is rising, and this month’s Family Caregiver Month is critical. We are pleased to be sharing what we have learned about family caregiving through this daily series of 30 Days of Caregiving blog posts. 

— Jacquelyn Kung, president, FCA board of directors




View all 30 Days of Caregiving blogs (to date) at caregiver.org/blog.