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Most Caregivers Look After Elderly Parent; Invest a Lot of Time

Most Caregivers Look After Elderly Parent; Invest a Lot of Time

by Elizabeth Mendes

This is part three in a special series of in-depth articles on what it means to be a working caregiver in the United States. Part one looked at the overall demographics of caregivers and part two revealed the impact of caregiving on the workplace, including the cost of lost productivity.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The large majority of employed American caregivers -- people who work at least 15 hours per week and help care for an aging family member, relative, or friend -- are looking after an elderly parent. Specifically, 72% say they provide care to a parent and separately 67% say the person is 75 years of age or older.

There is no one specific ailment that afflicts the majority of people being cared for in the United States. Rather, these people suffer from a wide array of diseases or conditions. However, the 15% of caregivers who report that the person they care for has Alzheimer's disease or dementia is more than mention any other specific sickness.

These findings are from a special survey of Americans who self-identified as caregivers in Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index surveys throughout 2010. Gallup recontacted those self-identified caregivers and interviewed 2,805 who were also employed at least 15 hours per week for a Pfizer-ReACT/Gallup poll specifically about caregiving.

In general, the findings from the survey reveal that caregiving has a significant impact on the life of the person providing care, including taking up a large portion of their life and a significant amount of time on a daily and monthly basis.

The majority of caregivers (55%) in the study said they have been providing care for three years or more. Another 31% reported giving care for between one year and less than three years. The remaining 15% had been providing care for a year or less. These data reveal that caregiving is generally a long-term commitment.

Errands and Day-to-Day Tasks Dominate Caregivers' Work

Caregivers report spending a lot of time on different tasks related to looking after their aging family member, relative, or friend. Caregivers appear to be spending the most time on errands and general day-to-day tasks such as going shopping, doing laundry, and providing transportation. Caregivers spend an average of 13 days per month handling these types of tasks.

Caregivers spend far fewer days -- six per month on average -- performing personal tasks such as helping the person they are caring for eat, get dressed, and go to the bathroom. This is likely tied to the finding that the majority (64%) of caregivers say the person they care for does not live with them.

Caregivers are also spending considerable time on administrative-type tasks. They report spending an average of 13 hours per month doing things like researching care services or disease needs, coordinating physician visits, and managing financial matters.

Beyond the actual work and chores of caregiving -- errands, personal items, and administrative tasks -- caregivers are fulfilling a companionship role. On a typical day spent giving care, caregivers report devoting an average of five hours providing companionship or supervision.


The Pfizer-ReACT/Gallup poll findings reveal the significant investment of time and energy caregiving for an aging family member, relative, or friend can require. Previous Gallup studies have found that working caregivers also suffer emotionally and physically. Although surely for many caregivers their efforts are a labor of love -- 72% are caring for a parent -- this doesn't mean that there aren't negative ramifications on their own personal and work lives. Ultimately, caregivers need time. On a regular basis, they may need days off work or time during the workday to take care of their caregiving responsibilities -- tasks that many would consider worthy of a full-time job. Employers' support on this front -- whether by being generally understanding, giving caregivers additional time off, or allowing for more flexible work schedules -- would likely go a long way to improving caregivers' lives.

See page 2 for full results on all survey questions in this article.

Survey Methods

Results for this Pfizer-ReACT/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 28, 2010-Jan. 9, 2011, with a sample of 2,805 adults, aged 18 and older, who self-identified as caregivers and were working at least 15 hours per week, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Respondents had previously self-identified as caregivers in Gallup Daily tracking surveys conducted throughout 2010 and were recontacted to participate in the survey.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points. For smaller groups, such as full-time employed caregivers, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2.3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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