Caring for California’s 4-Million Caregivers
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Caring for an adult family member has become the "new normal" for more than 4 million Californians, though, surprisingly, most don't think of themselves as caregivers. A new report finds, however, that their help would cost $450 billion a year if other people had to do it.
Susan Reinhard, director of the AARP Public Policy Institute and co-author of the report, says family caregivers are an essential part of the health care and support system for the growing number of people with complex chronic care needs.
"If caregivers stopped doing what they were doing today we would have far more people going into nursing homes, far more people going into the hospital and being re-hospitalized because there wouldn't be anyone there to give them the help that they need."
The report, "Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update," finds the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works full-time and spends another 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.
Reinhard says the report found that those who take on this unpaid role to help loved ones are many times "hidden patients" themselves.
"It's their contributions and the costs. And the costs are physical: They have more stress symptoms; they're very likely to experience depression far more than other people; and they are not taking care of themselves."
The report includes several recommendations to assist caregivers, including expanding funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program.
"It's a national program that gives funding to every state to help with respite care so family members can get a break, and it has some dollars for training caregivers so that they can have better skills to know what they're doing, which helps them deal with things much better."
Reinhard says the role of the family caregiver continues to increase in complexity. That's because shorter hospital stays and advances in home-based medical technologies put more responsibility on caregivers who often have to handle tasks such as giving injections, tube feedings or managing catheters.
The report is at www.aarp.org