David Heitz is a writer who spent 13 years looking after and advocating for his father with Pick's Disease, who died last year. David is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
If you are a young person or a man caring for a family member, you may feel invisible. After all, stereotypes tend to cast women in caregiving roles first.
But you're not alone. In fact, you are among the fastest-growing caregiver populations in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, male caregivers represent as much as 45 percent of American caregivers. Data from the Alzheimer's Association collected between 1996 and 2011 show male caregiver numbers more than doubled during that period, from 19 percent to 40 percent.
Millennials a growing caregiver group, too
There is yet another invisible but growing segment of caregivers in America – children. They include those who care for a parent or a sibling while a parent is at work.
A National Alliance for Caregiving Study conducted in 2005 found that well over a million children between the ages of 8 and 18 serve in a caregiving role in at least some capacity. More than half helped the person they care for with at least one activity of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, using the toilet or preparing meals.
More recently a 2015 study commissioned by Easter Seals and conducted by Impulse Research surveyed more than 1,000 Millennials and Gen X–ers online. Among this group of men and women ages 25 to 49, one-third identified themselves as caregivers.
Most surprising? More Millennials, the younger of the two generations surveyed, reported providing care on a daily basis, 67 percent compared to 55 percent of Gen X respondents.
Returning vets change caregiving landscape
Not only are caregivers younger, but so are those being cared for. Identifying part of the reason is as simple as watching the evening news: According to the Easter Seals report, a million caregivers are providing support to veterans from post-9/11 wars. These vets suffer from missing limbs, traumatic brain injuries, mental distress, and more. Their caregivers can plan on being in the role half a century or even longer.
Caring for a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression can be extraordinarily challenging, particularly when they have co-occurring injuries.
“While there is a misconception that most caregivers provide care due to physical conditions, such as preparing a home for wheelchair access, the reality is 77 percent of caregivers provide care for emotional and mental health conditions, memory problems or dementia," the Easter Seals emphasizes in its Many Faces of Caregiving study. “Caregivers may need further education about signs to watch for that someone is in emotional pain and might need help with personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness."
Nothing compares to a family caregiver
It's not just war, the graying of America, and financial realities leading to more family caregivers. Perhaps the number one reason is consumer-driven: elders and people with disabilities would rather have their own family care for them, avoiding institutional care.
Life already is stressful enough for people with disabilities. They want the type of reassuring care that only family members and loved ones can provide. Still, 70 percent of caregivers surveyed in the Easter Seals study said they feel like they're not doing enough for their loved ones. Time and again, they say they need more support and direction—and more and more, demographics show that support needs to be aimed at caregivers of all genders and generations.