A higher price to pay
But the burden of that $450 billion in uncompensated care goes beyond the economic. According to the report, between 40 and 70 percent of caregivers display symptoms of clinical depression. As many as a third of caregivers perceive their own health as fair to poor, and caregivers of people with dementia were more likely to have their own health problems, sleep problems and even dementia themselves than a person caring for someone without memory-related ailments.
This physical strain on the caregiver — and not the health of the older relative — is often the reason a parent winds up in a nursing home, says Howard Gleckman, resident fellow at the Urban Institute and author of Caring for Our Parents. But nursing homes are expensive. In the United States the median annual rate for a semi-private room is $70,445, but the cost can reach over $200,000 a year. If a family can't pay that themselves, then Medicaid is the only option.
"If all those families who are providing family care and do not have the financial resources to pay those fees turn to Medicaid, it would break the back of a system that's already deeply stressed," says Gleckman.
Is there a solution?
What caregivers need, experts say, are services such as support groups and information centers that will help them balance their own lives, as well as education regarding the physical, legal and emotional demands of caregiving.
"One of the big flaws in the system is that we have very little training for caregivers," says Gleckman. "Learning to transfer somebody [from bed to wheelchair], for example, is a skill. If you don't know the skill, you can hurt yourself. You can hurt the person you're trying to care for. We're expecting family members to be able to do it and we don't teach them how."
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