AARP’s just released report on family caregivers, “Valuing the Invaluable,” makes one thing very clear, if it wasn’t for family caregivers, we would be in deep doo-doo. They are not just helping their loved ones with meals and getting dressed in the morning. In many cases, they are providing serious medical care, such as “wound care, managing medications, giving injections and tube feedings, monitoring blood sugar, preparing special diets, and operating medical equipment.” All of these are tasks that would be done by paid professionals if they took place in a hospital or nursing home instead of in the family home.
The AARP estimates that there are about 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. providing ~37 billion hours of care for an economic value of their unpaid work of ~$470 billion! Not only do caregivers do the work without pay, they do it at great cost to themselves and their families.
For 60% of family caregivers, according to the report, the caregiving is their second job, with 22% of working caregivers providing 21 hours a week or more of unpaid work. These folks are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Their families need the income they provide via their paid jobs and their loved one needs the care. Is it any wonder caregivers are exhausted and stressed out?
The AARP report notes that the Stress in America survey found that 55% of caregivers “felt overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs.” This is especially true if they are experiencing depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms, such as sleep problems or exhaustion.
As if that is not enough, the financial impact can be significant with 38% of caregivers of adults reporting that they experienced a moderate or high degree of financial strain. Caregivers may have to leave the workforce, voluntarily or involuntarily, and they may find it difficult to return. Forty percent of unemployed caregivers report that “family care affected their ability to look for or accept a job.”
Right now, a lot of caregiving responsibilities fall on boomer women, the peak “primary caregiving years” being ages 45-64. But the boomers are aging into their care receiving years; the oldest boomers will hit 80 just 11 years from now. As this generation makes the transition, from giver to receiver, it will cause the ratio of potential caregivers to potential getters to fall from the current 6.8:1 to 4:1 in 2030 and less than 3:1 in 2050. If you think there is caregiver stress now, just you wait!
The AARP report includes a listing of both federal and state initiatives that could potentially provide some modest relief, such as Medicare’s payment for chronic care management, post-discharge transitional care, and telehealth care. However, many of the initiatives listed in the report are more on the “let’s study the problem” side of the equation (e.g., the Institute of Medicine’s report (due in 2016) on Family Caregiving and the bipartisan Assisting Caregivers Today (ACT) Congressional Caucus than real breakthrough approaches).
Given the magnitude of the problem and the looming old age of the Baby Boomers, we need something big and we need it now…the problem is, I am not sure what “it” is that we need…I just hope that someone does. I would love to hear your thoughts.