When I was caring for my parents, I thought what I was doing was both the hardest thing I had ever done and the most rewarding. Now, an important new study suggests I was not alone.

The study, called Caregiving in the U.S., is an important snapshot of what life is like for those providing assistance to aging parents, as well as young adults and children with disabilities. The study concludes that a staggering 65 million Americans are providing some assistance to their loved ones. About 17 million are caring for special needs children. The rest–nearly 50 million– are helping the frail elderly or adults with disabilities.  

Who are these caregivers? Keep this picture in your mind: A 48-year old woman caring for her elderly mother. She is trying to hold down a job even as she spends about 20 hours a week helping her mom, something she’s been doing for four years. There is a good chance she is taking time off work to help her mother with transportation, shopping, managing finances, taking medications, and even getting in and out of bed. 

She is getting help when she can from other family members and friends. About 40 percent rely on paid aides for some help, although that’s significantly fewer than in 2004, the last time the survey was done. And about 40 percent feel their caregiving puts a “high burden” on them. 

Among those caring for someone 50 and older, the picture is a bit different. Caregivers are older–more than half are over 50 themselves. They are, typically, helping a 77-year-old widow who is living in her own home and who may be suffering from dementia.

The study was done by the National Alliance for Caregiving along with AARP, and funded by the MetLife Foundation. It follows similar studies published in 1997 and 2004. Read it.