In many of my postings on family caregivers I have talked about the really hard job of caring for an older adult or someone else with special needs. At the personal level it truly is an enormous responsibility with great demands on a person’s time and their emotional well-being. The most recent report on family caregiving published by AARP, however, really provides a sense of the huge and important work that caregivers are providing for their families in America today. It is required reading for caregivers and their families.
In AARP’s snapshot of caregiving in America, they estimate that as many as 42.1 million people in 2009 were providing some sort of help with activities of daily living to an older adult. That number jumps about 50% when you look at all the people engaged in some sort of caregiving at any point during the year: 61.6 million people. And these individuals are offering their support as unpaid caregivers. If this were an “industry” instead of a voluntary contribution of time and energy, it would be generating an estimated $450 billion a year, an increase of about 20 percent over the prior year.
Family caregiving is the single biggest contribution to an older adult being able to stay in their own home and age in place. Caregivers do everything from transporting the older adult to and from medical appointments to coordinating the services of other medical providers, managing multiple medications and advocating on behalf of their family member. It takes time and weighs heavily on the caregiver who still must balance caregiving potentially against a full-time job, parental responsibilities and a marital partner. Caregivers often don’t get much explicit attention as part of the team or for their tremendous contributions. The AARP article notes that: “…ignoring family needs can place caregivers at risk for negative health consequences that can jeopardize their ability to provide care in the home. Interventions that include an explicit focus on assessing the needs, strengths, values, and preferences of family caregivers are important. Such interventions can be designed to reduce burdens and health risks that can impede a caregiver’s ability to provide care, prevent unnecessary hospitalizations, and prevent or delay institutional care. Strategies to strengthen and sustain caregiving families will enable them to continue as caregivers, and will reduce costs.”
It really comes back to three points I cannot repeat often enough. One, caregivers’ contributions need to be appreciated by the entire family who benefits. Two, the whole family also needs to help in caring for the caregiver. Three, it takes a village for all of the above.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.