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Study: Young caregivers lose childhood

More than a million between the ages of 8 and 18 are caring for a sick or disabled relative. As NBC's Janet Shamlian reports, they pay a high cost to do so.

Vincent Glaviano seems older than 16. He makes meals, handles household chores and helps his mom, Ann-Marie, with medicine.

Ann Marie Glaviano has lupus. And from the age of 10, her son has been her caretaker.

"When my mom got sick, my life totally changed because I was no longer just the child in the family," says Vincent. "I had to be a pseudo-parent."

According to a federally funded survey — the first ever done on child caregivers — it's a job more than 1.3 million children and teens are tackling. Many can barely care for themselves: 400,000 are under the age of 12, like 8-year-old Will Lore, whose father has ALS.

The study's co-author says we're used to children needing care, not giving it.

"This is a tremendous sense of guilt and burden that children should not have to bear," says Carol Levine with the United Hospital Fund.

Then there's the work itself — feeding a sick parent or grandparent, helping with bathing and hygiene and doling out medicine — it's care that comes at a high cost.

"A very vital part of their childhood has been absorbed by the illness," says Ann Marie Glaviano.

There can be lots of sacrifices for kids caring for an adult. They give up extra activities, time with friends, just a chance to do what they want. And while they're keeping it together at home, sometimes it falls apart at school.

Fifteen percent of caregivers in the study said their work at home keeps them from doing their homework.

"It does affect my life, and sometimes it affects my grades, too, because I'm not always able to concentrate on what I'm doing," says Vincent.

The report finds children who care for an adult gain maturity, but some say it's at the cost of a childhood gone too soon.