As stated in the 2007 report “Caregiving in America”, issued by the International Longevity Center – US and the Schmieding Center, the United States is in the midst of a significant and growing caregiving crisis. About 1.4 million older Americans live in nursing homes, nearly 6 million receive care at home, and significant numbers go completely without the help they need.
Family caregivers have always been the backbone of our country’s long-term care system. The approximately 50 million caregivers in the U. S. provide $350 billion worth of unpaid services each year. That’s more than twice what is spent nationwide on nursing homes and paid home care combined. However, family caregivers are largely neglected by the health and long-term care systems. They frequently are not trained on how to deliver complicated care, not treated as partners in their loved one’s care, or not encouraged to maintain their own health.
While advances in health care have allowed many seniors to remain alive who only a decade ago would not have survived due to the severity of their illnesses; these individuals are often those with the most challenging care needs. In addition, while our aging population continues to rapidly increase, our caregiving workforce continues to decrease, further increasing demands on family caregivers.
As a result, family caregivers are increasingly overwhelmed by providing care at home for seniors with complex care needs and difficult behaviors associated with chronic illnesses and dementia. A 25-year body of research shows that family caregivers are at an increased risk for health, emotional, financial, and work-related problems due to the strain of providing care.
This has resulted in our current caregiver crisis, which in reality is a major public health crisis. This crisis is heading towards certain catastrophe, because the health insurance system in the US currently provides coverage for limited, if any, caregiver services.
The good news is that there are caregiver support programs that work! Researchers have developed programs that help caregivers provide high quality care without becoming ill themselves. These programs also enable caregivers to provide care at home for longer periods without resorting to nursing home care. But these programs are not currently available in most communities.
We must take the next step! We need to focus on translation and sustainability of these evidence-based caregiver programs into real world, community settings. For this to happen in any meaningful way, there must be a call to action to the public, medical community and policy makers to support our families, our loved ones, our older adults and the people that care for them. There needs to be a national policy on caregiver assistance that recognizes the long-term contributions of family caregivers and understands the importance of investing money to sustain them.
It’s common sense! Comprehensively supporting caregivers allows individuals to safely remain in their own homes for longer periods of time and helps maintain the health and quality of life for both the caregiver and the person they are caring for. It also saves Medicaid, private insurance, and families thousands of dollars.
Last Modified June 4, 2009 @ 10:09 am
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