Nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults act as caregivers for loved one

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Nearly 40 percent of American adults care for someone with serious health issues, a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday shows.

Four in 10 adults care for a loved one suffering from poor health, up from 30 percent in 2010.

"Some of it is the aging of the population, some of it is the survival of individuals of chronic conditions which previously would've been fatal and some of it has been improved diagnosis so we can diagnose chronic conditions earlier than we would have in years past," said Dr. Albert Siu, of the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, to CBSNews.com.

The Pew study also found that 75 percent of adults aged 65 and older suffer from a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

"This has been recognized as a problem that has increased probably over the last almost 20 years, that we've seen a rising number of individuals with multiple chronic conditions," said Siu.

Today, people aged 65 and over represent 12.4 percent of the American population, but that number is expected to jump to 19 percent of the population by 2030.

The Pew study shows that as the U.S. population ages and medical advances save and extend more lives, care giving is likely to become more of a common role than ever before.

Both men and women are equally as likely to become caregivers. Those aged between 30 and 64 are the most likely to provide care; a majority of caregivers are college-educated, married and employed full time.

The research shows that caregivers turn to the Internet to inform themselves of illnesses, with 46 percent saying they go online to decipher a medical condition that they or someone they are caring for may have.

"We ought to be educating not only patients but their caregivers about many of these issues, that's why they're going online, because they don't have that information," said Siu.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that there are 2.3 million Americans currently providing long-distance care for a relative or friend.

On average, they spend nearly $10,000 out of pocket each year, almost twice the amount as those who live near the patient.

And, along with the financial weight of being a caregiver, there's a psychological one too.

"Increasingly, the burdens and the stresses of care giving have been documented. ... We're seeing studies that have shown depressive symptoms and other evidence of stress in caregivers," said Siu.

However, Siu believes the greatest concern may be for those individuals who do not have family or friends to help them.

"In many ways those are the individuals that have the most difficulty with the health care system. They're the ones who experience the complications. They're the ones who have higher nursing needs, and they're the ones that come back into the hospital," said Siu.

  • Jessica Hartogs On Twitter»

    Jessica Hartogs is a news editor for CBSNews.com. You can find her on Twitter: @jessicahartogs

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