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Support for Family Caregivers Allows Senior Independence

A recent survey shows 93 percent of Arkansas citizens age 50 and above would prefer to receive long term care in their home or community, but state Medicaid rules make that difficult. Source: AARP Arkansas
A recent survey shows 93 percent of Arkansas citizens age 50 and above would prefer to receive long term care in their home or community, but state Medicaid rules make that difficult. Source: AARP Arkansas
November 12, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Despite popular misconception, family caregivers provide most of the long-term care in Arkansas and the country. Some state Medicaid rules make providing that care difficult.

A recent study shows 93 percent of Arkansas citizens age 50 and up say if they needed long-term care, they'd rather get it in the home or community instead of in a care center. And according to AARP Arkansas interim state director Herb Sanderson, there are a large number of family caregivers tending to the needs of their loved ones today.

"In Arkansas, there are more than 450,000 caregivers," says Sanderson. "In fact, they provide the overwhelming majority of long-term care in this country. People often think that nursing homes or the state Medicaid program provide most of the long-term care in this country, but it is actually family caregivers that do that."

Sanderson says it's natural for a person to want to be near loved ones and familiar surroundings.

Despite the cost of family caregivers being far cheaper, state Medicaid rules actually get in the way of providing family-based care.

"Home care is anywhere from half to one third less costly than institutional care," says Sanderson. "The problem is the Medicaid program is geared toward institutional care in our state. It's cheaper, and other states have demonstrated that, but we have a ways to go in Arkansas to get to that point."

The Arkansas Legislature has hired an independent consultant to provide advice on changes in the state Medicaid program. Sanderson says their findings support changes to provide more help for family caregivers.

And there is cause for optimism that the Legislature will make those changes.

"I think the demographics are going to force a change, eventually," says Sanderson. "The largest providers of family care are baby boomers, and baby boomers are themselves aging; 10,000 a day turn 65 and ultimately those providing the care now are going to need it. We cannot rely just upon institutional care to meet that demand."

November is Family Caregivers Month, designed to draw attention to family support systems.

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - AR