Taking Care of Caregiversby Robert P. Dwyer, Ph.D., Executive Director, Central Massachusetts Agency on Aging
It seems that everywhere you look, there are articles about caregiving. In fact, within the last couple of years, whole magazines and even non-profit organizations have "popped-up" around the issues of caregiving and services for seniors. Magazines such as "New Lifestyles" offer invaluable information around housing and long-term residential services for frail and disabled elders.
According to information released by the National Family Caregivers Association (see http://www.nfcacares.org/):
- More than one quarter (26.6%) of the adult population has provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during the past year. Based on current census data, that translates into more than 50 million people.
- Caregiving is no longer predominantly a women's issue. Men now make up 44% of the caregiving population.
- The value of the services family caregivers provide for "free" is estimated to be $257 billion a year.
- Virtually one half of the USpopulation has a chronic condition. Of these 41 million were limited in their daily activities. Twelve million are unable to go to school, to work, or to live independently.
- People over 85 years of age are the fastest growing segment of the population. Half of them need some help with personal care.
- Elderly caregivers with a history of chronic illness themselves who are experiencing caregiving related stress have a 63% higher mortality rate than their non-caregiving peers.
- The pool of family caregivers is dwindling. In 1990 there were 11 potential caregivers for each person needing care. In 2050 that ratio will be 4:1.
- Sixty-one percent (61%) of "intense" family caregivers (those providing at least 21 hours of care a week) have suffered from depression. Some studies have shown that caregiver stress inhibits healing.
- Heavy duty caregivers, especially spousal caregivers, do not get consistent help from other family members. One study has shown that as many as 3/4 of these caregivers are "doing it alone".
- Approximately 80% of home care services are provided by family caregivers.
- A recent study calculated that American businesses loses between $11 billion and $29 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older.
- Fifty nine percent of the adult population either is or expects to be a family caregiver.
What caregivers need is education on caregiving, respite services, and training on how to deal with various diseases and behaviors. In fact, at the outset, caregivers need to know that they are, indeed caregivers. Whether they are family members, friends or simply neighbors, many of us care for someone else without realizing that we take on that caregiving role.
The reality is that caregiving is often hard work. In addition, many caregivers work full or part-time jobs on top of the personal care they offer to senior or elderly loved ones. These same caregivers then go home to continue their caregiving duties. They may even have children to care for if they are a part of the now famous "sandwich generation." For these caregivers, the free time needed for their own care becomes less and less. Their own needs take second, and sometimes third place, to their caregiving duties. Time becomes a precious commodity, and for working caregivers the opportunity to attend a support group or an educational program is nearly non-existent.
For those of us who make the attempt to care for those who do the caregiving, innovation and ingenuity is the key. At the Central Massachusetts Agency on Aging the choice has been to utilize the world wide web, better known as the internet, to create opportunities for working caregivers to find information, join in support groups, engage in peer support through 24/7 chat rooms. They can also participate in educational and training opportunities right from their desk during their lunch break, or from home when finally they might find a free moment. Through the Connection for Caregivers at www.seniorconnection.org, caregivers will find articles to read, videos to watch and social workers to interact with. Trainings such as navigating the aging network and on the essentials of caregiving have been offered, along with access to our Caregivers' Guide and a the Online Guide to Elder Services, a database of some 1700 programs that can help caregivers find services in our region.
For those who are not "internet savvy," our SeniorConnection Information and Referral program is only a phone call away at 508-852-5539. As an area agency on aging, we are a part of a network of 23 area agencies across the State of Massachusetts (check your local listings). If the concern is long-distance caregiving, there are over 660 area agencies across the country where we can help you get connected! So, whether you are a senior in need of information, or a family or professional caregiver looking for help, our free and confidential service is here to help you at the crossroads of elderly care.
Caregivers are important, and need our support so that they may continue to provide an invaluable service to those whom they care for and love.
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