Who is a caregiver today?
A caregiver isn't a face in the crowd; a caregiver is the crowd. Him, her, you, me, spouses, adult children, old friends, siblings -- people of all stripes, colors, socioeconomic groups, and skill levels take on the unpaid role of looking after another adult who's ill or frail.
For about one-third of all Americans, a caregiver is the face in the mirror.
Here at Caring.com, the average user of our caregiving resources is a woman between 50 and 70 who cares for her widowed mother who lives with her, according 2013 research. That's similar to the portrait drawn by other studies. Two-thirds of family caregivers are women and half are employed full-time, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Nothing is truly typical when it comes to caregiving, though. Every caregiver journey is marked by its own landscape of peaks and valleys, twists and turns, scary stretches and, yes, unexpectedly lovely vistas. The disease(s) affecting your loved one influence everything from the intensity and duration of caregiving to the types of help you must provide. Your job and location make a difference. So do what kind of assistance you have and how much emotional support. And of course, your unique relationship with the person before caregiving began colors everything.
Despite all the variables, knowing that others, too, are navigating eldercare journeys can be of great comfort. Thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever before to find kindred spirits. (This is not your grandmother's isolated caregiving life.) More than two-thirds of those caring for a loved one with dementia on Caring.com connect over Caring's online Steps & Stages resource, for example.
Whether you're a tech-savvy caregiver, a man or a woman, live near or far, or wherever you are in your journey -- from barely realizing you're in it to adjusting to life afterward -- you've got plenty of company. As former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, has noted, "There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."