Family caregivers need support

Malisa RaderISU Extension

Many Iowans could easily point to the caregiving responsibilities of a co-worker with young children who may occasionally need time off from work to care for a child’s unexpected illness. But co-workers who provide care for an aging parent or an adult child with a disability often may go unnoticed, says Malisa Rader, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“Maybe your coworker is caring for her chronically ill spouse, or your neighbor is caring for his aging parent or your friend is caring for her adult child with a disability. These people are caregivers, though they might not think of themselves as such,” said Rader, who specializes in family life issues.

Caregiving can be a stressful responsibility. More than one in six Americans who work full or part time report assisting in the care for an elderly or adult-child family member, relative or friend. Most caregivers do not abandon their caregiving responsibilities because of work. Instead, they cope as best they can to balance what are often conflicting sets of responsibilities, Rader said.

“Research tells us that employed caregivers struggle to balance their time and energy between work and caregiving,” Rader said. “They can become exhausted and stressed. Many struggle to balance the demands of work with the stresses of caregiving. The end result can be poor health, mental distress and less life satisfaction for the caregiver.”

Statistically, women are more likely to be caregivers. In the United States, more than 61 percent of caregivers are women and more than half of these caregivers have made changes at work to meet caregiving demands. According to a survey conducted by AARP, 64 percent of current family caregivers in Iowa are women.

“In Iowa, the typical family caregiver is a married woman between the ages of 55 and 64 who works full or part time and earns less than $60,000 per year,” Rader said.

The AARP survey describes caregivers as being heavily involved in the medical side of care of their loved ones, with about two-thirds of caregivers assisting with complex care, such as medication management, and overseeing other nursing and medical tasks, such as wound care, IVs and injections. In addition, most caregivers report assisting with transportation, shopping, household chores, meal preparation and managing finances.

It can be challenging for caregivers to find the support that they need, Rader said. That is why Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” in many locations throughout the state. The program provides information, support strategies, communication techniques, stress reduction ideas and resources to assist family caregivers with their concerns related to caregiving.

In 2016, ISU Extension and Outreach will be offering “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” classes specifically for caregivers of children or adult-children with disabilities, as well as classes for caregivers of older adults. For upcoming classes, contact an ISU Extension and Outreach county office. Online webinars are available through the national eXtension Family Caregiving portal at extension.org.

Malisa Rader is an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist housed in the Hamilton County Office. Her education and experiences in the field of early childhood and parenting education have developed her passion to empower and strengthen the well-being of children, families and the communities in which they live. You can reach her at 515-708-0622 or mrader@iastate.edu.