Four in 10 U.S. adults are now caring for a sick or elderly family member as more people develop chronic illnesses and the population ages, a new study has found.
"More health care is happening at home," said Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life project and the study's lead author. "As more people are able to be saved by medical advances, their lives are being extended, but they're also being sent home medically fragile. It's caregivers who are the first line of defense."
Researchers, which found that the number of caregivers increased 10 percent between 2010 and 2013, surveyed 3,014 adults nationwide and found that most caregivers were between 30 and 64 years old.
Fox also said the slow U.S. economy could explain why family members are becoming more responsible for care. With fewer or depleted savings, many people are less able to hire professional help, she said.
About half of the United States population has at least one chronic condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults ages 65 and older, 75 percent of whom have chronic conditions, are expected to make up 19 percent of the population by 2030, compared with 12 percent in 2000.
"As a chronic illness progresses, family members step in to help out," said Denise Brown, founder of the support site caregiving.com. "There's a better understanding of the progression of the disease than the practitioner because they live with it."
Fox said many caregivers become "voracious information consumers" who regularly tap into online resources to help them care for family or to cope with stress. "They want to turn up the volume on every resource of healthcare," she said.
Nearly half of adults surveyed in an earlier Pew Research Study said they expect to care for an elderly parent or relative at some point. Fox said the number of caregivers will likely continue increasing.