It’s often called the sandwich generation. More than half of adults who are 50 years and older have helped at least one senior in the past year, a new poll by the University of Michigan, along with the support by AARP, has found.

The nearly 2,200 caregivers responding to the poll provided help in areas ranging from personal hygiene to household chores, finances and health. The specific tasks included food shopping, house cleaning, doing home repairs, bathing and dressing, accompanying seniors to appointments or communicating with healthcare providers on the senior’s behalf, as well as helping with health insurance.

All those responding to the poll were between the ages of 50 and 80 and provided help for seniors 65 or older. For many, caregiving had turned into a long-term endeavor (five years or more), and about 40 percent of those caregivers reported that they’ve helped more than one elder.

“If you are not currently a caregiver, at some point in your life you either will be a caregiver or need a caregiver.”

Caregivers often have to travel to do what they do. The poll found that 75 percent of those who needed help — which included parents, other relatives, neighbors and friends — were not living in the caregiver’s home.

On top of all this, almost all the reported caregiving was unpaid. “I see this routinely in my primary care practice, and I know the value that spouses, grown children and close friends can bring to the health and well-being of older adults,” said poll director Jeffrey Kullgren. “But there is almost no formal mechanism for our society to recognize or compensate them for what they do.”

Although this may create a hardship financially, caregivers reported other kinds of rewards:

  • 96 percent of the caregivers said they got something positive out of the experience
  • More than 50 percent said they feel appreciated when providing care
  • 45 percent said it gave them a sense of purpose
  • 35 percent reported growing closer to their family and friends

The poll also pointed out the difficulties that many caregivers experienced, especially when they were caring for older adults with specific needs or those who have cognitive impairment. Caregivers reported experiencing emotional or physical fatigue and having a tough time balancing work and their other responsibilities.

“These data show the importance of supporting those who help our nation’s oldest adults. Not only have 54 percent of people over 50 done this in the past two years during the pandemic, but about two-thirds of that group are actively doing it right now,” Courtney Polenick, an assistant professor of psychiatry and caregiving researcher at Michigan Medicine who worked with the poll team, said in a statement.

If you are the friend or loved one of a caregiver, there are ways to offer them support. The CDC suggests you can help a caregiver by:

  • Providing emotional and social support.
  • Setting up times to check in on them.
  • Helping them with errands, chores and other tasks.
  • Making sure they are managing their own health care needs.
  • Helping them create and manage a care plan for the person.
  • Encouraging them to seek mental health services if necessary.

“Caregiving for an older adult is a complex experience that affects 48 million caregivers in the U.S. from an emotional, health and financial perspective,” Indira Venkat, senior vice president, AARP Research, said. “If you are not currently a caregiver, at some point in your life you either will be a caregiver or need a caregiver. It’s important that we consider the unique needs of caregivers and ensure they have the support to care for themselves as well as their loved ones.”

The poll report can be found here. It was also presented at the Gerontological Society of America annual meeting.