A new report by AARP’s Public Policy Institute found the economic value of caring for an adult family member, partner or friend who suffered with chronic conditions or disabilities in Hawaii was nearly $2 billion in 2009 (up from $1.45 billion in 2007).
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The value of unpaid care in the U.S. was an estimated $450 billion – more than the total 2009 sales of Wal-Mart, America’s largest company.
The report, “Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update”, finds that the “average” caregiver is a 49-year old woman who works outside of the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week providing unpaid care to her mother over the course of nearly five years. Almost two-thirds of family caregivers are women and more than eight in 10 are caring for a relative or friend age 50 or older.
“Caregivers take care of family and loved ones because that’s what they do,” said AARP Hawaii State President Stuart Ho. “They may not even think of themselves as caregivers. But the meals fixed for Mom and Dad, the visits to the doctor – all of that long-term care assistance would cost nearly $2 billion in Hawaii each year if someone had to be hired to do it.”
The report also found that the level of care provided is increasingly complex. The impact of shorter hospital stays and advances in home-based medical technologies plays out in the health tasks that family caregivers often carry out – including bandaging and wound care, tube feedings, managing catheters, giving injections or operating medical equipment.
This new level of care, which the report calls the “new normal,” takes an increasing toll on the caregiver. The report found that those who take on the role of caregiver often risk stress, depression, physical health problems, social isolation, competing demands and financial hardship and thus, are vulnerable themselves.
“Many caregivers may be ‘hidden patients’ themselves,” said Ho. “They often need support to address the negative impact their loved one’s illness or disability is having on them.”
The report says family caregivers are an essential part of the workforce to maintain the health and long-term care of a growing number of people with complex chronic care needs. Family caregiving has been shown to help delay or prevent the use of nursing home care. There is also growing recognition of the value of family members to the delivery of health care, and the ways in which families influence health care decisions, treatments and outcomes.
“The overwhelming majority of Hawaii residents want to remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible,” said Ho. Caregiving is key to making that possible.”
The full report is available online.