Today, an estimated 65.7 million Americans, or nearly 30 percent of the general population, provide care for an older adult, or someone living with illness or disability. Families are the major provider of long-term care for their older loved ones and these unpaid caregivers represent the largest source of long-term services and supports in the nation. Recent estimates indicate the value of unpaid caregiving has now reached $522 billion annually.

Research shows that nearly 90 percent of people age 65 and older want to age in place (i.e., stay in their homes and communities) for as long as possible. But to do so, many older adults rely on family or friend caregivers for support. The wide range of services provided by unpaid caregivers, such as transportation, food preparation, housekeeping and personal care enable older adults to live with dignity and independence. Most people who serve as caregivers do not self-identify as caregivers, however. Instead they consider the care they provide as “what you do for someone you care about or love.”

But serving as a caregiver may exact a heavy toll—emotionally, physically and financially—for the person assuming this role. The average age of a caregiver is 48, a time in many people’s lives when they are still raising a family and actively employed. Add the role of caregiver to the mix and many people feel unprepared and overwhelmed.  

Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) around the nation provide direct support to caregivers, primarily through the National Family Caregiver Support Program (Title III E of the Older Americans Act), which was created in 2000. Services include respite care (temporary supervision of the care recipient to provide rest for the caregiver, which is the most requested service); individual counseling and support groups; caregiver education classes/training; and emergency assistance.

AAAs also play a crucial information and referral role, connecting families with local providers who can help them create a caregiving plan, address specific challenges, or identify support services. Caregivers should contact their local AAA to learn more.

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