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National Survey: Caregivers Find Unexpected Emotional Rewards in Tending for Family Members

More than Three-Quarters of Family Caregivers Positive about the Experience

Fairfield, CT, November 20, 2007 - Nearly 80% of family caregivers are finding the caregiving experience emotionally rewarding, despite initial negative perceptions of caregiving, according to a nationwide survey by Caring Today magazine.

Published in conjunction with National Family Caregivers Month this November, the Caring Today survey shows that caregivers have distinctly more positive feelings after caring for a family member than they did as they were about to take on the responsibility. The number of caregivers finding the experience highly rewarding jumped by 50% following the caregiving experience.

"National Family Caregivers Month is a time to recognize family caregivers for their good hearts and tireless support," said President George W. Bush in a Presidential Proclamation. Some 50 million Americans act as family caregivers, providing non-paid assistance for a family member or friend who needs support, guidance and or/physical help with health and medical decisions.

A just-released National Alliance for Caregiving/Evercare study found that caregivers are often burdened by high out-of-pocket costs in caring for a spouse or parent. "While the Caring Today survey also found that many caregivers experience financial hardship due to caregiving, what is especially remarkable is that the overall caregiving experience is positive. Caregivers find that the caregiving experience helps them strengthen bonds with the person they're caring for in a way they never thought possible," said Susan Strecker Richard, Editor-in-Chief of Caring Today

The Caring Today survey also offers strong advice for caregivers: "Being prepared to be a caregiver is directly related to the well-being of the caregiver, not just the patient," said Victor Imbimbo, President/CEO of Caring Today.

"Many people facing the issue of caring for an aging parent or physically-challenged relative wonder how they can manage it, along with all they do in other aspects of their busy lives," said Richard. "However, for the majority of caregivers, the experience turns out to be emotionally rewarding beyond their highest expectations, reaffirming the significance of caregiving."

Every caregiver must develop a connection with his or her loved one," said caregiving advocate Debbie Newsham, 44, of Eagle River, Alaska, who has been caring for her father who suffers from Alzheimer's disease for over four years. "We learn to make those connections, find those moments and allay those fears. This is how caregivers move to the next level, keep our spirits high and maintain the essence of our loved one."

The survey indicates that caregivers' concerns vary significantly before compared to after becoming a caregiver. Overall the differences are positive, with caregivers initially underestimating the degree of bonding with the care recipient; underestimating both how rewarding and enjoyable the caregiving experience can be, and over-anticipating the degree they would feel overwhelmed.

However, caregivers initially tended to underestimate the need to find more resources and information and the potential of experiencing financial hardship. When first learning of their new role as a caregiver, most caregivers recall initial feelings as: Concern (36%), Overwhelm (22%), or Inadequacy (14%). Some even felt Fear (10%), Panic (5%), Anger (3%) or Guilt (2%).

Among the key findings in the Caring Today survey:

  • Sixty percent of the caregivers called the experience "very or extremely rewarding," a 50% jump over the number of caregivers who thought in advance they would find the experience "very or extremely rewarding." Nearly 80% (78.8%) percent of the caregivers found the experience to be at least "rewarding," an increase of more than one-third from initial expectation.
  • A majority of the caregivers-nearly 54%-formed a stronger bond with the patient during the time they were together.
  • Almost 60% of the respondents reported an improvement in the quality of their relationship with the person for whom they cared. By contrast, fewer than 10% said that their relationship got worse during the time they were caregivers.
  • Social activities of the caregiver tend to diminish. However, the diminished social activities are replaced with an increased quality of relationship with the care recipient.
  • More than 2/3 of all caregivers (68.7%) said they enjoy the tasks associated with caregiving. However, prior to assuming the role, fewer than half (45.5%) thought they would enjoy caregiving.
  • The amount of satisfaction with caregiving is directly related to the type of disease from which the care recipient suffers. Caregivers of depression sufferers, cancer and cardiac disease have more difficulty than those caring for patients who suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis.

"For me, caregiving is one of life's crossroads," said Newsham. "I have learned some painful lessons, but in such a unique and loving way that I realize this has not been wasted time for me. This has been a time to take personal inventory and realign priorities."

Caregiver profile

The survey revealed the average family caregiver to be a 46-year-old woman. More than ¾ of caregivers are female. Nearly ¾ range in age from 35 to 59. The majority of caregivers use the Internet regularly and use it to learn more about health information.

Importance of preparation in caregiving

Preparation, according to the Caring Today survey, is a critical element in the satisfaction caregivers derive from their subsequent experience: Caregivers who were prepared for what to expect felt happy, honored and needed and were significantly less likely to experience negative emotions, such as panic and inadequacy.

"The bottom line" said Imbimbo, "is that being prepared means the caregiver knows more and has more relevant medical information, establishes a better relationship with doctors, and plans for a more balanced life for herself."

While caregivers find the experience more enjoyable and less overwhelming than anticipated, many find the responsibility can take a physical and financial toll. Almost two thirds of caregivers are able to maintain their own health after becoming a caregiver (63%). However, about a third of caregivers experience a deterioration in their own health after becoming a caregiver (31%) and 38% describe themselves as being depressed. The majority, of the caregivers (53%) said they experienced financial hardships due to caregiving.

Anderson Analytics LLC, which conducted the survey for Caring Today, collected 514 valid responses online between April 26, 2007 and May 20, 2007. The survey has a confidence level of 95%.

About Caring Today, LLC

Caring Today, LLC, through its magazine and website, is the leading provider of practical advice and resources for family caregivers. Since 2004, the Connecticut-based multiplatform media company has delivered expertise and support to the estimated 50 million American family caregivers through www.caringtoday.com and Caring Today, a bimonthly magazine with a national circulation of 750,000.

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