As more individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with complex and long-term illnesses and as healthcare costs continue to rise, family caregiving is becoming more prevalent, more time-consuming and more expensive, according to a July AARP report. The lingering effects of the economic downturn have also meant that more family caregivers are suffering a financial burden as a result of the services they provide.
In 2009, about 42.1 million family caregivers in the U.S. provided care to an adult with limitations in daily activities at any given point in time, according to the most recent data. A total of about 61.6 million family caregivers provided care at some point during the year. In 2009, family caregivers spent an average of 18.4 hours per week caring for relatives or friends for about $11.16 per hour.
Many people providing these services do not identify themselves as “caregivers,” the report found. Instead, they tend to describe what they do in terms of their relationship to the other person: as a husband, wife, partner, daughter, son, etc. Some individuals are forced into a caregiving role because of shortages of direct healthcare workers, such as home health aides, or the inability to pay for adequate services, according to the report.
“Those who take on this unpaid role risk the stress, physical strain, competing demands and financial hardship of caregiving, and are thus vulnerable themselves,” the report says.
The estimated economic value of caregivers’ unpaid contributions was about $450 billion in 2009, up 20 percent from an estimated $375 billion in 2007. Earlier estimates have shown steady growth in the economic value of family care from about $200 billion in 1996.
Of the $75 billion increase in estimated economic value between 2007 and 2009, 57 percent, or about $43 billion, was due to an increase in the number of family caregivers and hours of care provided. From 2007 to 2009, there was a 23 percent increase in the number of caregivers and a 9 percent increase in the number of hours of care provided. About $33 billion, or 43 percent, was due to an increase in the estimated economic value per hour, from $10.10 in 2007 to $11.16 in 2009.
But the recession and lingering effects of the economic downturn have impacted the ability of family caregivers to provide high-quality care to their relatives and friends. According to the AARP report, in 2009, 27 percent of caregivers of adult patients reported a moderate to high degree of financial hardship as a result of caregiving. Another study found that 24 percent of caregivers said they had cut back on care-related spending because of the economy.
The financial costs associated with family caregiving are significant considering that in the U.S., about one in four individuals age 18 or older care for an adult family member, partner or friend with chronic conditions or disabilities.
If these caregivers were no longer available, the report estimates that the economic cost to the U.S. healthcare and long-term services and supports systems would dramatically increase.
According to the report’s findings, the average U.S. caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside of her home and spends nearly 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother for about five years. Out of all family caregivers in the U.S., 65 percent are women and more than eight in 10 caregivers are caring for a relative or friend that is age 50 or older.
Family caregivers perform a variety of tasks ranging from paying bills and making meals for an individual to providing transportation to medical appointments and serving as a patient advocate.
Assisting with transportation needs is one of the major parts of family caregiving. A recent analysis found that family and friends in the U.S. provide 1.4 billion trips per year for older relatives aged 70 and older who do not drive.Tips for Family Caregivers
Are you a stressed caregiver of a family member or friend? Are your patients or clients in need of aid in their daily care provision? Here are some things to keep in mind while caring for your loved one:
1. Know your limits as a caregiver. Give yourself a break and take some time off once in a while to do things that you enjoy.
2. Confide in others. Talk to friends or other family members about your feelings. Don’t let your emotions get bottled up. Join a caregiver support group that can help you deal with the stresses of being a caregiver.
3. Know your rights as a caregiver and learn as much as you can about your relative or family member’s illness or condition. Communicate with doctors and other healthcare providers often. The more you know, the better care you’ll be able to provide for your loved one.
4. Recognize the signs of depression and seek help if and when you need it. Caregiving can be mentally, emotionally and physically taxing. It’s important to take care of yourself before trying to take care of someone else.