My mother Jean had Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years before she died in the summer of 2015 at the age of 83. My father David, 84, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in autumn 2009, and I continue to visit and care for him at his assisted living home on a regular basis. Caregiving deepened the love I have for each of my parents, but the challenges were bigger than I could have imagined.

Because of the length of my parents’ illnesses, my finances became strained. It was easy to push aside and ignore my own financial worries because of the more pressing physical and emotional demands of caregiving.

At first, having a little less in your bank account as a result of caregiving doesn’t seem like a big deal, but small deficits can grow over time. Research shows that caregivers often deplete their own financial, mental and emotional resources. Many caregivers sacrifice wages due to lost work time and tap into their own savings to ease stress on others, sometimes threatening their own financial security.

Denial and depression are common side effects of caregiving. I wish I had read an article like this when I began to care for my parents. The advice I wish I would have heeded most was my parents’ happy and loving voices before they were sick, reminding me to take care of myself and to give more thought to my own future.

If you are starting a journey as a caregiver, my advice to you is to remember that the people who love you most, the very ones you may be caring for, would never ask you to sacrifice your own well-being.

Who are caregivers?

An estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States provide unpaid care to an adult or child, and about 34.2 million of those Americans provide unpaid care to someone age 50 and older, according to a 2015 study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

A typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative, but the study also finds that caregivers are becoming as diverse as the U.S. population. Sixty percent of caregivers are female and 40 percent are male. Eight in 10 take care of one person.

Nearly a quarter of America’s caregivers are Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34, and are equally likely to be male or female. I was 34 when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

And, with an average household income of $45,700, caregivers also report feeling financial strain. Thirty-four percent of caregivers juggle full-time jobs with their caregiving duties, and 25 percent work part-time.

According to the study:

  • 85 percent of caregivers provide care for a relative, with 49 percent caring for a parent or a parent-in-law.
  • One in 10 caregivers provide for a spouse.
  • Caregivers spend 24.4 hours per week helping with activities like bathing, dressing, housework and managing finances.
  • 32 percent of caregivers provide at least 21 hours of care a week, on average providing 62.2 hours of care weekly.

Women Caregivers at Higher Risk

A Rice University study found that women who are caregivers are 2.5 times more…

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