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Helpful advice for improving the lives of both seniors and their caregivers

Right now, there are more than 53 million family caregivers in America, caring for more than 80 million loved ones.

TOLEDO, Ohio — November is National Caregivers Month, and throughout the country, millions of people are in need of some form of care.

Right now, there are more than 53 million family caregivers in America, caring for more than 80 million loved ones. It's estimated that one-fifth of Americans will act as informal caregivers at some point in their life.

Ursel McElroy, Director of the Ohio Department of Aging, says a million and a half of those caregivers are in the Buckeye State.

"Here within the state of Ohio I think it's really important for people to know ...  we have the 6th largest older adult population in the nation and we're steadily growing." 

Nearly all of those people are unpaid, spending roughly 1.3 billion hours caring for loved ones, and most of them are learning while doing. 

Bianca Padilla is co-founder of Carewell, a company designed to improve the lives of caregivers through products, service and community.

She says caregivers often perform a wide range of duties like getting someone dressed or fed, all the way to managing their financials or their healthcare decisions and even performing medical and nursing tasks.

"90% of senior care is provided by inexperienced informal family caregivers," said Padilla. "So they don't have any medical or nursing background and they're doing it for the vast majority of the time, for the first time."  

Many are caring for their older parents, along with their own children, which is creating both a financial and emotional strain, and that work is often at the risk of the caregiver's own health. 

The CDC says informal caregiving has been associated with elevated levels of depression and anxiety, higher use of psychoactive medications and worse self-reported physical health. 

To help ease the strain, McElroy says the first step is to realize you're not alone and you can start by giving "yourself permission to ask for help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that." 

Help is also available online from the department's National Family Caregiver Support Program.

"When you contact one of our area agencies on aging," Ursel says, "they will take you through a screening for an assessment to determine exactly what those needs are, and are there services to alleviate your caregiving responsibilities." 

Caregivers can also call the Ohio Department of Aging at 1-866-243-5678 for help in connecting with a local agency that can make sure you have what it takes to ensure both you and the person you're caring for are getting the help you need.