Based on a 2015 phone survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of nearly 110,000 people, the study found that those who said they regularly care for or assist a family member or friend with a health problem or disability (24,034 respondents) were less likely to have health care coverage or seek needed health services than other Americans. Nearly two-thirds (64.5 percent) of caregivers were women.
"Caregivers had a 26 percent higher risk of not having health care coverage, compared with non-caregivers, and they were at a significantly higher risk, a 59 percent additional risk, for not going to the doctor or getting a necessary health service due to cost,” Jacob Bentley, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University, said in a statement.
Bentley, corresponding author of the study, which was published in the journal Rehabilitation Psychology, noted that caregivers were also at greater risk of having a depressive disorder and more likely to report experiencing at least one limitation to daily activities because of physical, mental or emotional problems.
The results were not entirely unexpected. Previous research has shown that caregiving can make it more difficult to find a job or get ahead at work; plus, the need for a flexible schedule can diminish earnings. But the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the problem.
"While we expected caregivers to be more at risk in these areas, we were concerned to learn of the extent of these risks and barriers to health care access encountered by caregivers,” Bentley said. “Given the scope of difficulties acquiring health care coverage and utilizing needed services in this large national sample, we believe our findings warrant additional research and likely the development of low-cost and accessible services that meet the multifaceted needs of caregivers."
The survey found that nearly half (49.7 percent) of caregivers had been in this role for two years or longer. And while more than half (54.7 percent) provided up to eight hours of care a week, 22.7 percent put in 20 or more hours. Personal care (medications, feeding, dressing and bathing) was provided by 50.6 percent of poll respondents. Household tasks (cleaning, managing money and preparing meals) were done by 77.1 percent.
The vast majority of caregivers (79.3 percent) said they had no need for support services, such as classes about providing care, help in getting access to services, support groups, individual counseling to help cope with caregiving, or respite care.