Charting a path forward for caregiving

When caregiving for a loved one, the roles one must play can be many – and often require managing physical, emotional and financial considerations, each requiring an individual approach.

According to a recent estimate, 53 million people are currently providing unpaid care to an adult with health or functioning needs — an increase from 43.5 million five years ago. This means more than ever, there is a need to evaluate the current landscape of caregiving to help ensure that those serving these roles get the information and support they need.

Woman in wheelchair, assisted by caregiver Woman in wheelchair, assisted by caregiver

Recently, AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving completed a comprehensive report on caregiving in the U.S. The report details trends and insights that not only show the current state of caregiving, but where it’s heading.

Roughly 1,400 caregivers 18 years and older participated in the study, describing their experiences caring for an adult in the last year. From this data, five trends emerged:

  1. Care recipients are needing more complex care.
    The reasons people need caregiving are varied, whether it’s because of long-term physical needs (63 percent), memory problems (32 percent) or emotional or mental health issues (27 percent). Moreover, caregiving recipients are increasingly likely to have more than one health condition, which is also known as comorbidity. On average, caregiving recipients have 1.7 conditions, compared to 1.5 in 2015.
  2. Coordinating care can be challenging.
    Caregiving may require going to several places for services and care. Compared to five years ago, more caregivers are finding it harder to navigate various providers (26 percent vs. 19 percent in 2015).
  3. Caregivers are increasingly taking care of more than one person.
    About 24 percent of caregivers are taking care of more than one person, compared to 18 percent in 2015. This could be due to a variety of factors, including a greater prevalence of people needing caregiving, a lack of access to long-term service and supports (LTSS) and states and communities making a transition to more home-based care.
  4. The strain on caregivers may affect their own health.
    This stress isn’t just emotional, but also may be physical. About 21 percent rate their own health as fair or poor and 23 percent say it’s made their own health worse. Beyond that, 21 percent say they feel alone in their journey.
  5. Caregiving has economic impacts.
    The financial aspects of caregiving may be difficult. About 18 percent of caregivers experience high financial strain and 23 percent have taken on more debt. What’s more, an increasing number of caregivers have been in their role for five years or longer (29 percent vs. 24 percent in 2015), which may create longstanding financial stress.

It’s clear that caregivers continue to need additional support. The stressors they face may be shaped by demographics and policy, but anecdotally, it seems if caregivers are feeling overburdened, the quality of caregiving may suffer. In addition, the complexities of multiple conditions — and sometimes multiple people receiving care support from the same person — means that a wraparound, holistic approach for the recipient becomes all the more important.

Resources and Support

One way to help caregivers feeling the strain is by equipping them with information to help with the planning, support and understanding their role requires. This may help them feel more prepared for the future, better equipped to take care of themselves and more aware of how to navigate the emotional impact of caregiving. UnitedHealthcare has a number of care guides to help aid this process, including:

Accessing the knowledge and resources that are available may help make a caregiver feel more supported and less alone. For more information, visit

Additional resources

National Alliance for Caregiving

AARP Resources on Caregiving

AARP Community Resource Finder

Caregiver Action Network