Caregivers provide regular care or assistance to a friend or family member that has a health problem or a disability. According to the 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 adults in Virginia are caregivers. 58% of them are women, and 19% are 65 years or older. Approximately 41% are caring for a parent or parent-in-law, and 8% of caregivers are providing care for someone who has dementia. Caregiving is often time-consuming and challenging. Over half of caregivers have provided care for at least two years and nearly 1/3 have provided care for at least 20 hours per week. Committing so much of oneself to a daily task such as caregiving can, ultimately, influence their wellbeing.
In addition to the challenge of caregiving, there are often other difficulties that can add onto the stress. Families living in rural areas have particularly unique challenges. Accessing proper support, including respite care, is more challenging regardless of the age or condition of the care recipient. Family caregiving can be stressful, but certain factors such as less job opportunities and financial resources, limited access to health and social services, transportation barriers and geographic isolation that are widespread for many rural areas, can add onto it.
Rural areas have evolved over time, reflecting more current social, economic, and political climates. The number of family farms has declined and dependence on agriculture for economic stability is less so compared to decades ago. As young people have left rural areas for economic and social reasons, there has also been a larger rural aging population that is becoming increasingly dependent on individuals other than immediate family members for daily caregiving assistance. This change, alongside family members returning to the workplace for necessary reasons, has reduced number of family caregivers, and therefore lessened the available pool of potential formal service providers. There are also many veterans in rural areas, who also have health and social service needs, which result in an even greater demand for caregiving services.
Caregivers take up many different types of responsibilities. More than 80% of them manage household tasks of all types. Over 50% assist with personal care. And as the number of dementia and Alzheimer’s cases rise, expected to double over the next two or three decades, so will the need for caregivers. It is estimated that 1 in 7 non-caregivers expect to become caregivers within the next two years.
It is important for caregivers to remember to take care of their health. A few ways to do this include: seeking support from other caregivers, taking care of your health so you can be strong enough to care for your loved one, accepting offers of help and give specific requests that people can help with, learning how to communicate effectively with doctors, taking respite breaks, watching out for signs of depression and not delaying getting professional help, being open to new technologies that can help with caring for loved one, organizing medical information for ease, making sure legal documents are in order, and, most importantly, giving yourself credit for doing your best is one of the toughest jobs. Remember, you are not alone.
There are online resources for additional information or resources. You can visit https://bayaging.org/dementia-friendly-middle-peninsula-northern-neck/ to learn more about Dementia Friendly community in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck area. On it is a handout with information about Alzheimer’s and tips on caregiving. Youtube videos are available for more interactive learning, and can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWRN1QxSZJE . Bay Aging has many services and resources that can be found on the website www.bayaging.org. For those without access to the internet, please call Bay Aging at 1-800-493-0238.