Paying It Forward: Caregivers Are a Volunteer Force
Advocacy More than 65 million Americans provide unpaid care to an older parent, a spouse, a sibling, a special needs child or a friend, serving as the nation’s largest volunteer health care army.
Family caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to volunteer to help others. This can be a rewarding but exhaustive journey. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, the average time a caregiver spends caring for an older loved one age 50 and older is 20 hours a week, for at least 4.5 years.
One would think after spending so much time caring for a loved one, caregivers are ready to relax and take a long break. Not so, according to a study published in the Journal of Gerontology that found that older adult caregivers were twice as likely to become volunteers than non-caregivers.
The study highlighted that family caregivers become embedded in networks, as they take on the role of caring for a loved one. It is this circle of care that makes caregivers more likely to continue to seek these social interactions with like minds even after caregiving is over.
The study also found caregivers have a routine of performing tasks for others – something they do not abandon after their loved one is gone. Caregivers are more likely to become involved in social networking and organizational memberships and often become very passionate about a cause that has affected their loved one.
Notable role models
High profile caregivers who are paying it forward are actor Seth Rogen and his actress and screenwriter wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, as well as actress, author and advocate Holly Robinson Peete.
“Caregivers are more likely to become involved in social networking and organizational memberships...”
The Rogens created Hilarity for Charity in 2011 to raise awareness and funds among the younger millennial generation for the 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease. Miller Rogen’s mother was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s, a disease that also took Miller Rogen’s maternal grandmother and grandfather, when her daughter was in her 20s. The couple uses its brand of humor to fight a disease estimated to impact 13.8 million Americans over age 65 by the year 2050.
Holly Robinson Peete, a multi-talented entertainer who juggles being a wife and mother to four children, also became a member of the Sandwich Generation, providing care to two generations – an older parent and a child. After becoming a caregiver during her college years, for a father diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Robinson Peete then began caring for a child with autism after starting a family with husband Rodney Peete, a former NFL quarterback. Together, the couple created the HollyRod Foundation to support families both emotionally and financially as they face autism and Parkinson’s disease.
Well-known or not, the study found caregivers uniquely combine their obligatory role (caregiving) with a later discretionary role (volunteering). Or as Lily Hardy Hammond wrote in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight”: You don't pay love back; you pay it forward.