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Report: Unpaid Caregiving Takes Its Toll

Over 500,000 Arkansans serve as unpaid caregivers for family or friends. A new report says they often ignore their own health issues. (Virginia Carter)
Over 500,000 Arkansans serve as unpaid caregivers for family or friends. A new report says they often ignore their own health issues. (Virginia Carter)
February 23, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - More than 500,000 Arkansans are unpaid caregivers for friends or family members, and a new study says they are about twice as likely to experience physical, financial and emotional difficulties as those who don't have these responsibilities.

Jennifer Wolff, associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says those who are focused on others are more likely to ignore their own issues.

She says the research highlights the need for support for these caregivers, including acknowledging that they often help with health care.

"If the electronic health record had a structured field to record the name of a family member, so health professionals knew who else was helping a patient, they could be better integrated as part of a care team," says Wolff. "Providing them with more information about the patient's care plan, about the medications they're taking."

In Arkansas, the Caregiver Act was signed by the governor last year. It allows patients to designate a caregiver when admitted to the hospital, and that person is consulted about follow-up care when the patient is discharged.

Wolff says caregivers are usually untrained in medical issues and unsure where to get help. She says family and friends who take care of others also go without psychological support, or don't have time to get health care for themselves.

She says unpaid caregivers can suffer financially, too, and that needs to be recognized.

"If families were to walk away, there's no way the system could afford to step in and provide all the assistance that they are doing, uncompensated," says Wolff.

Wolff notes a few states have family-leave programs that allow people to collect part of their salary while caring for relatives with medical issues. In her view, there should be more of them.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR