It seems only fitting that as we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday that we should also pay gratitude this month for the millions of Americans who serve as caregivers. Most of us do not know that November is National Family Caregivers Month.
The Value of Care
For those for whom they provide care, these 90 million Americans are a life line. In dollar figures, these unsung heroes provide $450 billion worth of care, one of the largest segments of our health care system.
“This figure, accounts for a dollar value on every meal prepared, every call made to an insurance company and every time a caregiver helped an older adult bathe or dress, is nearly as much as the government spent on Medicare in 2009 and nearly four times what Medicaid itself paid for long-term care services. It’s an estimate that explains why caregivers are so overwhelmed and in dire need of support, says Lynn Feinberg, senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute.
“It’s difficult to find paid help to supplement the care family provides at home,” Feinberg says. “There’s a shortage of quality home care aides; with the economic downturn, people are having a harder time paying for the extra care; and public programs are shrinking — many states now have waiting lists.” AARP Public Policy Institute
“We have to recognize that in the United States, caregiving comes at a cost. We need to provide better support to families in their caregiving roles. Because otherwise, our whole long-term care and health care systems will almost collapse.” AARP Public Policy Institute.`
Significant findings include:
- People who take care of others are devoting nearly 20 hours per week on average to caregiving duties, often while still working a full-time job.
- Caregiving costs have increased 20 percent over the last estimate of $375 million two years ago.
- Caregivers provide 1.4 billion trips per year for older adults who no longer drive.
- Caregivers are using their own personal savings — or diverting money for their own health care needs — to help cover the $5,000 annual average out-of-pocket cost for caregiving.
- Caregivers are also leaving the workforce earlier than they would, losing an average of $115,900 in wages, $137,980 in Social Security benefits and $50,000 in pension benefits.
The Health Cost of Care
Many caregivers fail to consider their own health needs and are less likely to practice preventative health measures. The burden of caregiving can be physically demanding. Caregivers frequently report:
- sleep deprivation
- poor eating habits
- failure to exercise
- failure to stay in bed when ill
- postponement of or failure to make medical appointments
- higher incidence of alcohol abuse
- tobacco use
- use of drugs
Even though caregiving for a family member can be rewarding and demonstrates love and commitment, it often introduces added physical and emotion stress and can be burdensome financially.
Alarming studies have shown that clinical depression among family caregivers can be as high as 46-59 percent.
Poor self-care behaviors not only take an emotional toll, many times the physical manifestations can be life altering. Care giving as an increased risk chronic health conditions such as:
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- back injuries
- diminished immune response
The majority of family caregivers have assume this role willing but approximately forty-four percent report that they did feel that they had a choice in taking on their caregiving responsibilities So while the rest of us are getting on with our lives these folks watch enviously from the sidelines. For the most part caregiving is a temporary situation over 31% of caregivers have been in their roles five years or longer.
Thanking the caregiver: a random act of kindness
As we end the month of Thanksgiving, let’s not forget to remember these 90 million caregivers, a force for good and compassion among us. Regrettably, 50% of caregivers report that they receive no unpaid help from friends or family. So why not make an effort to show appreciation for these unsung heroes by extending compassion and support with a random act of kindness.
Valerie Sobel recently suggested five in the Huffington Post:
- Send a card of appreciation or a bouquet of flowers to brighten up a family caregiver’s day.
- Help a caregiver decorate their home for the holidays or offer to address envelopes for their holiday cards.
- Offer comic relief! Purchase tickets to a local comedy club, give the caregiver your favorite funny movie to view, or provide them an amusing audio book to listen to while doing their caregiving activities.
- Offer to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for a caregiving family in your community, so that they can just relax and enjoy the holiday.
- Encourage local businesses to offer a free service from family caregivers through the month of November.
To that list I would add several of my own:
- Make a simple visit.
- Take the time to express you acknowledgement of their service.
- Take the family caroling to their home.
- When you see the caregiver and his loved one, make an effort to involve the loved one in the conversation.
- Pick up the tab when you see the caregiver and their loved one at a restaurant.
So make someone’s day! Not only will you make the caregivers day, but I guarantee that you will feel darn good yourself.
My caregiving journey has gone from a task that I was doing to a source of joy and fulfillment. Find out how you can change your caregiving experience by contacting me. Let me inspire you!