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Caring for caregivers: Woman helps others navigate unpaid family care

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Posted at 9:30 AM, Mar 11, 2022

MARIETTA, Ga. — Elizabeth Miller's work is about showing others the light when it suddenly gets dark.

"I've always kind of tended to be a person with who was, you know, glass half full, but it's an emotional and physically exhausting rollercoaster to be a family caregiver," she said.

Now an expert caregiving coach, it was never a path Miller thought she would take. A few years ago, however, Miller abruptly found herself in a position where she had to care for her aging mother.

"2014 was what we affectionately call the spiral year in my family," she said.

That’s the year her father passed away, leaving the responsibility of taking care of her chronically ill mother to her and her siblings. What she found was that she had to become an expert in many things quickly and couldn't find a community to help her through it.

"We were what you call squeeze in the sandwich generation, squeezed between caring for our aging parents and our kids at the same time, and what I was starting to realize is just, I wasn't recognizing who I was in the mirror," Miller said.

"I just really felt frustrated, overwhelmed, isolated, angry, resentful," she added.

Miller was one of the 53 million unpaid family caregivers.

Of those 53 million, they average between 15-35 hours a week of unpaid caretaking.

According to the most recent available data, that has an economic value of more than $470 billion, which is more than what was spent on paid home care and Medicaid.

The Centers for Disease Control says 53% of caregivers say the burden has caused a physical and mental decline.

"I just started blogging and writing what was happening. Some of the first ones, you know, are kind of negative, and then I thought this isn't who I am. I want to figure out strategies and solutions for family caregivers and try these on and share them," Miller said.

Her blog, Happy Healthy Caregiver, turned into a business and community where people come to her to find coaching and comfort, especially when it comes to self-care and identity, two things most caregivers overlook.

"What you're feeling is normal and people are asking a lot of you, but if you can look in the mirror every night and say, you know, 'Gosh darn it, I did a great job today,' that's really the end game," she said.

Elizabeth says the first step for new caregivers is knowing that there are communities and resources like hers across the country.

"Find a support group. Maybe you don't need it right now, but somebody needs you to just listen and validate their story, and maybe you can share a tip that's working for you that they may need. So sometimes that language will get people to seek support and there are out there, but you have to know where to find it," she said.