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Successful Aging: What you need to know about family caregivers

This month, we acknowledge the many unsung heroes (and heroines) who are family caregivers.

It’s National Family Caregivers Month. President Biden issued a proclamation that encourages all of us to reach out and honor those who provide needed care to family members, friends and neighbors and to thank them.

“Our nation is waking up to the fact that caregivers are essential to the well-being of families and our economy,” writes JoAnn Jenkins, the CEO of AARP, in the organization’s Nov. 2023 bulletin. “Their sacrifices save lives and allow millions of older adults and others with long- or short-term illnesses or disabilities to receive treatment at home.”

Nationally, there are an estimated 41.8 million informal unpaid caregivers, which is defined as someone who has been a caregiver to an adult 50 years or older in the 12 months prior to the AARP study. Roughly one out of six people in the U.S. provide care to a family member age 50 or older.

Caregivers often “don’t think of themselves as caregivers,” says AARP’s Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and advocate for family caregiving initiatives who is quoted in an AARP report.

I can relate to Reinhard’s comment when I assisted my late husband through five years of cancer with periodic remissions. I was shocked when someone asked me if I was my husband’s caregiver. My response was, “No, we just do what we always have done.” That could have been denial. Perhaps what bothered me was the implication that one of us was dependent while the other was independent. Our relationship was reciprocal and interdependent. The title of “caregiver” upset that equilibrium for me.

Caregivers extend themselves and often risk their own emotional health. They often suffer from high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Many suffer from frustration, guilt and even helplessness. For others, caregiving can result in the feeling of losing one’s identity, low self-esteem, constant worry and not being in control of one’s life. About one-fifth of caregivers are exhausted when they go to bed. Because of the stress, caregivers often have increased alcohol and substance abuse.

Furthermore, physical health often is affected by caregiving. These health concerns include a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis and more. Caregivers often miss doctor appointments and postpone routine visits.

Yet with these vulnerabilities, caregivers report that helping a family member or friend has a positive effect on their lives, bringing them a sense of purpose and pride. (AARP Bulletin, November 2023).

We know that 60 percent of caregivers work full or part-time and often are torn between their work and caregiving responsibilities. Yet we do have glimmers of hope. Companies are beginning to realize they need to offer caregiving benefits as one way to attract and retain quality employees. Those benefits include remote work, flexible hours and transitioning from full-time work to part-time or job sharing. Without such benefits, employees typically take the time needed for caregiving as sick days, vacation days or time off.

Considering that being a caregiver is considered one of the most difficult jobs, support groups can help. It’s meeting those who are “in your shoes.” Such groups offer a non-judgmental safe place giving one a sense of community and a place to pick up tips from advice and shared experiences. Groups are run out of hospitals, community centers, online with virtual meetups or with professionals in a private practice.

The National Council on Aging suggests the following places to turn.

  • The National Council on Aging (NCOA)’s Caregiving resource hub

  • The U.S. Administration on Aging’s Caregiver Corner. You can also call 1-800-677-1116 for information.

  • The Caregiver Action Network, or call 1-855-227-3640.

  • The Family Caregiver Alliance, which offers many of its resources in Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

  • Taking Care of Yourself: Tips for Caregivers

For example, in the South Bay, a caregiver support group is offered by the Torrance Memorial Physician Network that meets Tuesday afternoons on Zoom. To register, call 310-517-4701 or click the link

Finally, we all play a role in this caregiving arena. If you have a family or friend who is a caregiver, offer to stay with the care recipient to give the caregiver some time off. Consider bringing over a meal or two and just think about a visit to say hello.

We all are stakeholders. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter said it well. “There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”

Stay well everyone and be kind always.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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