FAMILY CAREGIVERS

Roz Brown

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - On any given day, more than 44 million Americans take time out of their own lives to care for a family member, friend or neighbor; which is why November is designated Family Caregivers Awareness Month.In South Dakota, the contributions provided by more than 86,000 caregivers add up to about $1 billion in unpaid labor annually. AARP State President Jill Tyler said many caregivers assist with healthcare needs or help those with disabilities better manage their lives.

"We're not talking about a small group. We're not talking even about a small number of very specific needs," Tyler said. "There's such a breadth to what family caregivers are doing for their families."

She added South Dakota's estimate of 86,000 caregivers is probably a low number, because many family members carry out caregiving tasks in an unofficial capacity.

Caregiving tasks include taking loved ones or neighbors to doctor's appointments or the pharmacy, helping cook meals or even walk a dog. Tyler said traditionally, caregivers have been older family members, especially mothers, sisters and daughters. But South Dakota is also benefiting from the roles filled by millennials - with 1-in-4 now engaged in caretaking.

"It has been relieved somewhat in rural communities by young people, who are providing care maybe for grandparents," she said. "So there are more and more millennials, and they're more likely to care for a loved one with an emotional or a mental health issue."

Tyler noted it's important to start the conversation about caretaking long before a crisis occurs. She said that can alleviate out-of-pocket costs and also reduce the physical hardship often experienced by caregivers.

"One of the things they often say is, 'I should have taken better care of myself,'" Tyler said. "The care that you're providing is essential to this person, and so you need to put yourself in the position where you can continue to provide it."

According to an AARP study, 78 percent of caregivers spend their own money to help family members or loved ones stay in their homes. More information about caregiving is available at aarp.org/caregiving.