According to a new U.S. Census Bureau report, there are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history.
In Pennsylvania, senior citizens comprise 15.6 percent of the total population making it the fourth highest percentage in the nation.
With an aging population comes an increased need for elder care, with the onus often on family members and loved ones to provide it. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C., there are at least 43.5 million caregivers of adults older than 50 in the U.S., and most of them have paying jobs in addition to their caregiving responsibilities.
Studies show that the pressures of caring for a senior loved one can result in caregiver distress, a potentially dangerous condition that increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression and various other physical and emotional problems.
In response to this growing issue, Home Instead Senior Care has launched a public awareness campaign called Family Caregiver Stress Relief to help family caregivers determine if they are at risk for distress and to minimize problems before they escalate.
Information can be found at www.FamilyCaregiverStressRelief.com.
Included in the program are two new tools.
One is the Are You a Caregiver Quiz, which is designed to help a family caregiver self-identify and recognize the role of a caregiver.
The other is the Family Caregiver Distress Assessment, which allows caregivers to determine their risk for distress and resulting emotional and physical issues.
The website also offers a 24-hour hotline that caregivers can call for support and resources.
Lucy Novelly, owner and CEO of Home Instead Senior Care offices in South Hills and Washington County, said caregivers often don't make the connection between physical and emotional issues they may be dealing with and the stressors that come with caring for a loved one.
"Some people are living this every day and thinking that what they are feeling is normal because of what they have on their plate," she said.
Ms. Novelly, of Bethel Park, said the stress of caring for an aging loved one goes beyond the day-to-day responsibilities and can include relying on friends and family members for support, uneven distribution of responsibilities, maintaining two households, and financial, marital and relationship issues.
This is a truth she learned firsthand while caring for her mother for 15 years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at the age of 62.
Ms. Novelly had a full-time job and was raising her young children when she found herself thrust into the role of caregiver for her mother.
"It was a lot of stress because I was juggling so many different things and responsibilities and still trying to hold it all together," she said.
"There were days I got up and I thought I can't do this one more day."
Though it took its toll on her emotionally and physically, Ms. Novelly said there is opportunity in being a family caregiver and that it can be very rewarding. In addition to learning more about Alzheimer's, she said she learned a lot about patience, gratitude, relationships and the true meaning of really caring for somebody.
Ultimately, Ms. Novelly said caring for her mother ended up being the inspiration for her to start a Home Instead franchise here in Pittsburgh in 1999.
Since then, she said she has met with many clients who don't know how to ask for help caring for a loved one or have a hard time asking because they feel like they should be able to do it themselves.
Her response is to encourage them to be specific as to the tasks they need to have done such as grocery shopping, lawn care or bill paying, and she reminds them that it is OK for them to take a timeout.
Her hope, she said, is that this new tool will be a first step in caregivers reaching out and that they will find some help through it and the resources that it offers.
"It's a very long journey when caring for somebody else, and it certainly is something that you have to be equipped to do," she said.
"Getting the right information and resources and having good plans is important, but also you need to still be able to take care of yourself."
For more information, visit www.homeinstead.com or call one of these local Home Instead offices: South at 412-595-7554; East at 412-205-3345; or Washington County at 724-222-7700.neigh_south
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.