Families are being called on to play an increasingly important role in health care today. A recent survey conducted for the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute found that almost one of every five adults in the United States is serving as a family caregiver, a term that is used most often to describe individuals who care for members of their family of origin but also can refer to those who care for their family of choice – often a member of their congregation, neighbor, or close friend. These informal, unpaid caregivers tend to the needs and concerns of persons with limitations caused by illness, injury, or disability.
Most caregivers report that they have little preparation for many of the tasks they take on, and providing this care can be physically and emotionally demanding, especially for those caring for loved ones with chronic mental health issues or Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. It often means sacrificing some of their own interests and not paying enough attention to their own health. There is also often the challenge of balancing caregiving with work. It is not unusual for family caregivers to have to reduce their work hours or take a leave of absence, which then impacts their own financial situation.