Not all caregivers are paid. A vast majority of long-term caregivers are actually unpaid individuals who are looking after their ill or disabled family members. On average, these informal caregivers spend 20 hours a week caring for a loved one. Many of them take up the tremendous responsibility out of a sense of commitment to their parents or their love for the care-recipient. Regardless of the reason, it is a challenging duty that can often become mentality and financially overwhelming.
In 2015 in America, approximately 34.2 million unpaid caregivers were tending to adults with ages 50 years and over. Around 82% cared for one adult, 15% looked after two persons, while 3% were responsible for three or more. Out of these 15.7 million are caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
Moreover, a study concluded that more than 75% of caregivers are women who spend approximately 50% more time attending to loved ones than men. 49 years is the average age of caregivers in the US, where 48% are between the ages of 18-49 years old while 34% are of 65 years and above.
These exceptional human beings manage a plethora of errands. They include everything from administrating complicated medications, driving the patients to the doctors, helping them with performing daily activities in addition to the endless household chores.
It can be exhausting as well extremely stressful to care for loved ones with chronic diseases such as dementia. It requires strength, resilience and immense physical effort to look after the care-recipient for long hours.
Moreover, many of the caregivers are working individuals as well. According to studies, more than 1 in 6 Americans work part-time or full-time and fulfill their informal caregiving role as well. As a result, the enormous responsibility often takes a toll on the caregivers’ health.
Furthermore, caregivers are often not trained to take on the role. It may involve tube feeding, managing catheters, bandaging wounds, giving injections, keeping track of dozens of pills and so on. The tasks are daunting and downright scary. However, due to the lack of financial resources to hire medical help, the responsibility falls on the closest family member, who is simply ill-equipped to handle the situation.
The report, Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, found that almost half of the respondents said that they had no choice but to take the caregiving role. The same report also discovered that 48% of the caregivers felt the responsibility to be a huge burden while 18% reported it as a moderate burden.
The continual strain of the caregiving duties and the stress of witnessing your loved ones waning before your eyes results in various health problems for the care providers.
Firstly, the family caregivers experience deteriorating psychological health. They go through higher levels of anxiety, depression and other mental issues.
Studies show that 40-70% of caregivers have clinical symptoms of depression. Moreover, 30-40% of dementia caregivers suffer from emotional stress and depression.
Depression leads to the onset of other problems like substance abuse or dependence, anxiety disorders, etc.
According to another survey by UCLA, 75% of the middle-age caregivers suffered from obesity, 30% turned towards alcoholism, and 16% took up smoking to deal with the psychological pressure and stay above the water. A majority of caregivers also suffered from chronic illnesses where 34% had hypertension, 10% had diabetes, and 6% had heart problems.
The predominant reason for institutionalizing the care-recipients is also the declining health of the caregivers.
Therefore, while you may feel inclined to put the patient’s needs before your own, it is imperative to understand that you have to take care of yourself too. You can only fulfill your role to the best of your abilities until you are of sound mental and physical health.
The rise in caregiving demand
Innovative advancements in medicine have increased the lifespan of the general population. People are living longer and consequently, incapacitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes, etc. are becoming more prevalent.
By 2050, more than 30% of Americans will be senior citizens, above the age of 65, the majority of who will require personal care. Traditionally, family members, especially adult children, take up caregiving responsibilities. However, the decline in the number of children per couple has paved the way for an imminent crisis that requires immediate attention.
An AARP study reveals that due to shrunken family sizes, the caregivers of today will face many difficulties when they need help themselves in old age. Today, there are almost seven potential care-providers for every elderly over the age of 79.
The number is expected to drop significantly to only three to one caregiver per senior by 2030. As a result, many of the caregivers today will have to rely on professional help at a nursing facility or in their homes. These statistics are extremely concerning and require proactive laws.
Urgent requirement of laws about caregivers
As alarming as it sounds, the current healthcare system is not prepared to tackle the situation. Caregiving is not a priority amongst the national healthcare system, and the country does not have any long-term agenda to deal with the upcoming crisis.
The primary reason for this inefficiency is that family caregiving is often regarded as a private matter and the responsibility of the members of the family, more commonly, women. However, increasing number of women have joined the workforce and hold full-time jobs. They have to juggle between two incredibly demanding responsibilities where either their health, quality of work, or both suffer.
In fact, the financial impact of employing family caregivers is quite shocking for the employers as well. The loss of productivity from employees who also function as care-providers is an astounding $33.6 billion. Conversely, these employees are the most in need of financial resources and cannot be penalized for their generosity.
Therefore, the ideal solution would be a support system for the family caregiver that ensures they do not tire out and wane away. They should be offered flexible working hours to manage their jobs and caregiving responsibilities more efficiently.
The system should allow them to utilize their sick leaves to fulfill their senior care obligations. The employers should give similar precedence to the care of older adults as that of children. Above all, we should fight the stigma associated with looking after a family member and be more considerate.
To top it off, in-home caregivers have poor wages and lack specialized training to manage the demands of their profession. There are not enough financial incentives to attract qualified caregivers. As a result, there is a widening gap between the number of formal caregivers and care-recipients.
The current American caregiving system, which relies heavily on family members and does not put enough emphasis on enhancing professional caregiving, is simply not sustainable for the coming years. It’s a challenge that requires immediate attention and prompt reaction.