Children, Teenagers Becoming Caregivers To Ill, Elderly Relatives

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A growing number of children and teenagers are taking on the responsibility of caring for family members with debilitating illness, the Washington Post reports. As many as 1.4 million young people ages eight to 18 in the U.S. care for a chronically ill or disabled relative, according to a 2005 survey by the United Hospital Fund and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

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Tasks performed by young caregivers can include providing companionship, running errands, balancing checkbooks and changing feeding tubes or adult diapers. The 2005 study found that mood swings and antisocial behavior are more common among teenage caregivers than their peers, and they also have increased rates of missing school or after-school activities.

There are few public services to aid young caregivers, who often do not receive recognition for their adult-level responsibilities, the Post reports. According to experts, these statistics will continue to increase as U.S. residents are beginning families later in life and advances in medicine are allowing people to live longer.

Connie Siskowski, a registered nurse in Boca Raton, Fla., who started what is believed to be the nation's first program to identify and assist young caregivers in public schools, said these children often experience feelings of "stress, isolation and fear, thinking they are the only ones." She added, "When there is a serious illness, there's also the fear of not only what's going to happen to that person but what's going to happen to me" (Chandler, Washington Post, 8/25).

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