Published in Woonsocket Call on June 14, 2015
With the graying of America’s population, the profile of the typical family caregiver has changed, says a new report released by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. The findings trouble aging advocates who warn that as care givers age they require more long term care support and community based care services.
Taking a Look at Today’s Caregiver
The report, “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” tells us that the “typical” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative, caregivers on the whole are becoming as diverse as America’s population.
According to the 81 page report, today’s family caregiver also provides unpaid care for at least 21 hours a week, and has been care giving for an average of 5-1/2 years. These individuals expect to continue providing care to their loved ones for another 5 years. Nearly half of these higher-hour caregivers report high emotional stress (46 percent), too.
Men, often stereotyped as failing to take on caregiving responsibilities, currently represent a whopping 40 percent of family caregivers, also providing an average of 23 hours a week being a caregiver to their loved ones, adds the report.
The study’s data indicates that today nearly a quarter of the nation’s caregivers are millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 and they are equally likely to be male or female. On the other end of the spectrum, 75 and older caregivers are typically the sole support for their loved one, providing care without paid help or assistance from relatives and friends.
Meanwhile, caregivers, with an average household income of $45,700, tell the researchers that they are not only emotionally strained, but financial strained as well. These higher-hour older caregivers report difficulty in finding affordable care giving services, such as delivered meals, transportation, or in-home health services, in their community, for themselves and their loved ones.
The report also notes that “Caregivers of a close relative—like a spouse or a parent—who are likely to provide care for 21 hours or more, indicate that being noted as a family caregiver in the medical records of the care recipient would be helpful in managing their caregiving responsibilities.”
Finally, the study’s findings indicate that caregivers who live more than an hour away from their care recipient also report higher levels of financial strain (21 percent), perhaps because 4 out of 10 long-distance caregivers report the use of paid help (41 percent).
Report Calls for Supporting Caregiver Needs
As previous AARP research has shown, we’re facing a caregiving cliff,” said Dr. Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director, AARP Public Policy Institute; and chief strategist, Center to Champion Nursing in America. “By mid-century, there will be only three family caregivers available for each person requiring care. That means, to avoid putting them at higher risk as they age, we need to provide support for existing caregivers who are underserved by the current long-term services and support system.”
We’re especially concerned that not enough is being done to support family caregivers in the public or private sector as they age,” says Gail Gibson Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “There’s a double-edged sword when we fail to support caregivers, because we put both the caregiver and the care recipient at risk,” she warns.
Hunt observes, “Rhode Island is a unique state in that it has the highest percentage of persons over age 85. The data in this report speaks to some of the challenges of a graying population, particularly the needs of caregivers who are 75 or older.”
“We know from the data that the ‘typical’ caregiver over 75 is caring for a spouse or close relative, and spends about 34 hours a week providing care. This can be extremely challenging for an older person who may be managing their own mobility and health issues, as they help a loved one with basic needs like bathing or everyday tasks like grocery shopping,” said Hunt.
Hunt says, “Rhode Island has an opportunity to continue supporting older people and their caregivers, who are also growing older and need care.”
Lawmakers Posed to Pass Caregiver Law
In June 4th, the Senate passed SB 481 A, the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable) Act, to provide caregivers with timely information to allow them to provide post-discharge care. The House Chamber passed its measure, HB 6150 Sub A on June 10th. Both chambers must now approve the legislation from the opposite chamber. If passed, they go to the Governor for approval. This legislation will be invaluable to the state’s 148,000 caregivers who provided 142 million hours of care for loved ones.
“We are delighted that – upon the CARE Act becoming law – Rhode Island will join seven other states that have enacted CARE Act legislation, with bills in three other states awaiting their respective Governor’s signatures,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell.
“Together, AARP worked with a strong coalition of stakeholders, as well as the House and Senate sponsors, Representative Eileen Naughton, and Senator Gayle Goldin, and the members of the House’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee and the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee,“ notes Connell.
“The passage of the CARE Act dovetails with the release of “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” which presents a portrait of unpaid family caregivers today. It specifically addresses vulnerable groups of caregivers who face complex, high burden care situations. They tend to be older caregivers, who had no other option but to take on caregiving duties.” adds Connell.
Connell says, “It is sobering to conclude that in Rhode Island, with its above-average older population, we risk seeing more and more of old sick people caring for older sicker people. Clearly, that’s not a good thing and it needs addressing sooner than later.”
“One thing we noticed as the CARE Act made its way through the General Assembly was that a number of lawmakers shared their own personal caregiving stories. Some issues are harder to personally identify with than others, but when it comes to caregiving, it’s good to know we have this kind of attention. The report adds data and statistics that should help frame solutions,” says Connell.
Director Charles Fogarty, who oversees the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), sees the value of AARP’s report highlighting the “critical role” of caregivers taking care of their loved one. “Family support is essential to allow seniors to stay in their own homes and live as independently as possible, he says, noting that federal funds allows DEA to administer respite and care giver support programs.
“As the baby boomer generation ages, DEA will continue to seek out resources that provide support to family members who care for their loved one,” says Fogarty.
The CARE Act can provide assistance to those tirelessly care for their aged or disabled loved ones. Kudos for the Rhode Island General Assembly giving them the tools to do a better job.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.