November is National Family Caregivers Month. It is also the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving. So when you stop to say “Thank you,” take time to thank just one of the 40 million family members, friends, and neighbors who provide unpaid support for other adults who require assistance with daily activities. According to the newly-released National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP report on caregiving, 61% working caregivers require work accommodations; 57% perform nursing tasks such as giving injections or providing tube feedings; and 38% report being highly stressed.
In another 2015 report on the monetary value of caregiving, AARP researchers estimate the value of the 1.45 billion hours of care provided by Illinois’ 1.5 million caregivers of adults at $18.5 billion. The burden of care often falls hardest on the close to 600,000 caregivers identified by the Alzheimer’s Association as providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. While public acknowledgment for this unpaid assistance is definitely deserved and appreciated, we also need to remember that caregiving can be a very demanding job… one that requires training, respite, professional support, and sometimes, financial assistance.
This year, thank caregivers with tangible support: offer to mow a lawn, prepare a meal, run errands, spend some quality time with their loved one.
Caregiving can be a very rewarding experience but can also take a toll on a caregiver’s emotional, physical, and financial health. Research indicates that the stress of caregiving can make caregivers more prone to depression, more likely to develop a chronic disease, and, if they are providing intensive care, more likely to leave their jobs. On the financial side, a 2013 MetLife study concluded that total wage, Social Security, and private pension losses could average $303,880 for a typical working caregiver age 50+. Multiply this by the approximately 10 million Boomers caring for their parents… a total loss of nearly $3 trillion dollars.
This year, thank a caregiver with some reality-based, cooperative planning and education to help minimize the looming burden of caring in our society.
A promising step in this direction is the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable) Act recently passed in Illinois and effective January 2016. The CARE Act requires that hospitals record the name of a designated “family” caregiver, notify the caregiver of potential discharge plans, and provide explanations and in-person instructions regarding required medical care. Research reported in the American Journal of Managed Care provides strong logic for the act’s passage: patients with family caregivers present during hospital discharge were five times more likely to complete smart post-discharge activities, helping to reduce readmissions. Obviously, we can’t expect hospitals to provide extensive training to family caregivers, though the education that the CARE Act requires is indicative of training that family caregivers, like paid professionals, need to help them provide appropriate care.
This year, thank a caregiver for caring… and for saving a bundle of your dollars. If you’re a taxpayer, advocate for caregivers. If you’re a legislator or government executive, seriously investigate the return on investment of continuing education, mentoring, time off from work, and, sometimes, financial support, to help caregivers succeed at their jobs. Especially if you’re an aging adult, you’ll want to act on the results of that research!