A new report from AARP’s Public Policy Institute found the total economic value of caring for an adult family member, partner or friend who suffered with chronic conditions or disabilities in the U.S. reached an estimated $450 billion in 2009. In North Dakota, the value of care reached $830 million. The $450 billion is up from the estimated $375 billion that the study found in 2007.
See Also: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update
The report 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 North Dakota State Director Janis Cheney. “They don’t think of themselves as caregivers. But the meals fixed for Mom and Dad, the visits to the doctor – that help and other long-term care assistance would cost $450 billion if someone had to be hired to do it.”
The report also found that the care provided continues to increase in complexity. 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,” also takes an increasing toll on the caregiver. The report found that those who take on this unpaid role to help loved ones remain in their own homes and communities 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 Cheney. “They often need support and care to address the negative impact their loved one’s illness or disability is having on them.”
In summary, the report says, “Family caregivers are an essential part of the workforce to maintain the health care and long-term services and supports for the 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 people want to remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, said Cheney. “Family caregiving is key to making that possible.”
The report includes several recommendations to assist caregivers, including expanding funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP); providing adequate funding for respite programs, including the Lifespan Respite Care Act; promoting new models of care that are person- and family-centered and engage the caregiver as a partner and member of the care team and also integrate the different elements of care – such as primary health care and long-term services and supports; and, promoting the expansion of consumer-directed models in publicly funded home- and community-based services programs that permit payment of family caregivers.
Information and Resources for Caregivers
North Dakota has a Family Caregiver Support Program. For more information, call the Aging and Disability Resource-LINK toll-free 1-855-462-5465.