What are the early signs of dementia? Which family member will have the time and resources to support our aging loved one? These are all important questions rolling around daughters, sons, partners, and family members around the nation. Studies have found a lot of the responsibilities are falling on one family member individually – the daughter.
If you are a daughter, odds are that you will become a caregiver for an aging parent at some point. That’s the conclusion of Stanford University School of Medicine researchers who say that, “The responsibility of providing care to the vast number of patients with dementia expected over the next 20 years will disproportionately fall on working women.”
That “vast number” of dementia patients will be the result of the burgeoning population of senior Baby Boomers who are reaching retirement age every day. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there will be 50 million Baby Boomers over the age of 65 by the year 2019. The “oldest old” – those aged 85+ will number 85 million by 2020. That number will double as baby boomers hit that age. As this population increases, so will the cases of dementia. Researchers expect that by 2030 an estimated 8.4 million Americans will suffer from the disease.
Daughters are on the front line of care. Stanford researchers say that 83% of caregiving is provided by unpaid family members and two-thirds of them are women. That’s difficult on several fronts including a daughter’s ability to make a living. Women now make up almost 50% of the workforce in America. As caregiving duties fall on them, they will be confronted with making choices about curtailing work, wages and promotions in order to address caregiving responsibilities. Stanford researchers say “Daughters are 28 percent more likely to care for a parent than sons.”
While estimates vary, the researchers at Stanford say that a caregiver spends an average of 171 hours a month caring for someone with dementia. Those hours are unpredictable and highly demanding. The work exacts an emotional and physical toll on the caregiver, making it difficult to concentrate on other responsibilities like work and family. As daughters bear the brunt of this stress, they will also begin to experience caregiver burnout.
There are services and programs in place to support caregivers and we hope they will continue to increase in size and number. Cities and towns, civic and religious organizations and nonprofits offer a wide variety of services that range from food delivery and transportation to social activities and exercise. Professional caregivers also offer important services and can provide respite support to daughters, caring for their loved ones while giving them time off from caregiving duties. These things are essential if daughters are to maintain physical, emotional and mental health while caring for loved ones.
Stanford researchers made an important point in their discussion of daughters as caregivers, citing “…the importance of referring them to caregiver support services.” Professional at-home caregivers can help to ease the pressure of caregiving duties. They are trained to work with many different personalities and chronic conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to stroke care. Professional caregivers can step in and provide support, grooming and bathing services, food preparation and companionship so that the daughter can pay attention to work and family responsibilities. Flexible hours and scheduling combined with expert professional training makes this type of support an essential part of the care continuum. Dementia caregiving can also help ease the burden. It is the type of support that is going to be needed increasingly as the population ages.