The dramatic effect of this country's rapidly graying population is hitting home, with a nationwide survey released Sunday showing nearly 1 in 4 households involved in the often stressful, time-consuming task of caring for an aging relative.
The comprehensive look at care-giving found that 22.4-million families are providing physical and emotional assistance to older relatives or friends _ a threefold increase from a decade ago.
The average caregiver devotes 18 hours a week, although some 4.1-million caregivers provide at least 40 hours a week. Typically, they do so for more than four years.
"We're not talking about the son who calls his mother on Sundays and says, "How are you?' We're talking about enormous amounts of time," said Gail Hunt, executive director of the National Alliance for Caregiving, which conducted the study with the American Association of Retired Persons and Glaxo Wellcome, the world's largest prescription-drug company.
The picture it draws of U.S. families belies the growing perception that they are unwilling to take responsibility for their own.
According to the report, caregivers spend about $2-billion a month out of pocket on groceries, medicine and other aid to their relatives.
"This survey raises some very important points," said Robyn Stone, acting assistant secretary for aging at the Department of Health and Human Services. "Think about the demographic imperatives of a baby boom generation, when 1 in 5 people will be over 65. We haven't even begun looking at the implications of that."
This latest study found that 64 percent of caregivers are full- or part-time workers and that their jobs often suffer because of responsibilities to older relatives. Some eventually quit or take early retirement.