Home Caring for the Caregivers: A Critical Component of Older Adult Flourishing

Caring for the Caregivers: A Critical Component of Older Adult Flourishing

Strong support systems are essential to ensuring health and wellbeing for individuals as they age. Caregivers are one part of these strong support systems.  However, all too often, caregiver needs are not addressed as part of a holistic approach to improving the lives of older adults.

While caregiving is and can be a very rewarding experience, caregiving requires significant demands of time and resources. Without adequate resources and supports of their own, caregivers are at risk for various physical and psychological issues, including burnout and even depression. In some extreme cases, caregiver burnout can lead to increased risk of older adult abuse and neglect. It is therefore critical that caregivers receive the support they need to ensure not only their own health and wellbeing, but that of the person they are caring for.

Who is a Caregiver?

There are many different types of caregivers and different ways of providing care. A caregiver is any person who is assisting with or is responsible for aspects of someone else’s health and wellbeing. These supports can include but are not limited to household tasks, self-care, mobility assistance, health and medical care, medication management, nutrition, financial management, emotional and social support, and care coordination. Informal caregivers are individuals who are not paid to provide caregiving supports and usually are a relative or friend of the person needing help. There are many different legal classifications of caregiving, including power of attorney, durable power of attorney, and guardians.[1]

For older adults, the most common informal caregivers are spouses and adult children. In the United States, there are 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. There are a variety of factors, such as gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, that add complexity to the caregiving role.[2]

What are the Challenges Caregivers Face?

Caregiving for a loved one can be a deeply rewarding experience as it can strengthen close relationships, be an opportunity to express gratitude, and create meaning.

However, without adequate supports and resources, caregiving can present numerous challenges.[3]  For spouses who are caregivers, they face emotional and social impacts such as a loss of intimacy and relationship dynamic shifts. For grandparents raising grandchildren, there can be additional demands on the individual providing care to their spouse as well as grandchildren.

When the primary caregiver is an adult child, they often fall into the “sandwich generation.” This is a dynamic that occurs when a person is both caring for their children and a parent at the same time. These dual caregiving demands can create stress between the caregiver and those they care for, as well as with their significant other. Shifting dependency roles between the adult child and their parent(s) can cause additional emotional and social stress.

Informal caregiving can create financial strain as the caregiver may need to take time off from work to attend to caregiving responsibilities. While the Family and Medical Leave Act allows for adult children and spouses to take job-protected leave for a total of twelve workweeks a year for caregiving responsibilities, this time is unpaid. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, “the total finical impact of caregiving, including lost wages, lost social security benefits, and the impact on pensions equals $303,880” for an individual caring for a parent.[4]

Grief and depression are also concerning for the mental health of caregivers. In addition to balancing the physical, financial, and time demands, caregivers have to contend with feelings of loss and sadness that can accompany a diagnosis or declining capacity of a loved one.

Local Resources for Caregivers

While caregivers need more social and policy supports to ensure their financial, physical, and mental wellbeing, there are a variety of resources at national, state, and local levels.

National & State (Kentucky)

Local (Louisville/Jefferson County)

Blog Contributor:   

Mariah Likens, MSSW
Flourish Care Specialist & Caregiver Program Manager
University of Louisville Trager Institute
[email protected]

[1] Resource outlining legal classifications of caregiving. Please note: some legal classifications vary by state.

[2] Additional information about caregiver demographics: General overview provided by National Alliance of Caregiving, as well as racial/ethnic, gender, and LQBTQ caregiving dynamics.

[3] Resource overviewing caregiving stress: “Caregivers of Older Adults: A Focused Look at Those Caring for Someone Age 50+,” a 2015 AARP Public Policy publication.

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