By The Numbers, Just the Facts, Ma’am.
Let’s look at the numbers. No, not the numbers proving how old I am that I remember Joe Friday from Dragnet (Just the facts, Ma’am). I’m not really a numbers person so any mistakes you find are clearly my own. Anyway, here goes. Have you ever wondered how many people provide caregiving services for free?
The Caregivers Alliance quotes these statistics:
• About 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
• About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. [Alzheimer’s Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.]http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_CaregivingintheUS_Final-Report-June-4_WEB.pdf
That is a lot of unpaid caregiving. What is the estimated economic impact of all that unremunerated work?
Family Caregiver Alliance website says, “The value of services provided by informal caregivers has steadily increased over the last decade, with an estimated economic value of $470 billion in 2013, up from $450 billion in 2009 and $375 billion in 2007. [AARP Public Policy Institute. (2015). Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update.] https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics
Those figures are four years old. I’m guessing the numbers have increased. They go on to say 75% of caregivers are women. Three studies I looked at agreed the average age of women caregivers is 49 years, 23% are between the ages of 45-64.
Some caregivers say caregiving has affected their health, yet, a Pew Research study says “88% of caregivers say they feel what they are doing is rewarding”. The American Psychological Association reports “33% of caregivers report “no strain” and 50% reported “some strain” as a result of caregiving.” The older the caregiver, the more impact on the caregiver’s health. They also address costs, but in the sense that hospital stays and admissions are decreased if there is a caregiver in the home. Caring for someone at home is always cheaper than hospital or nursing home care. There are so many facets to the issue, obviously.
I don’t possess the skills to analyze those numbers and tell you what they mean. The American Psychological Association comes to this conclusion about the effects on caregivers
“In summary… studies show that many caregivers do not report high levels of strain, cope successfully with caregiving, report many psychological benefits from caregiving, and may even experience improved health and reduced mortality because of their caregiving experience. However, there are clearly subgroups of caregivers that report high levels of strain, experience heightened depression, and who may show negative health effects from caregiving. Caregiving strain is often worsened by certain kinds of caregiving demands (dementia and end-of-life care) and in circumstances where caregivers do not have enough resources (knowledge, skills, social support, respite, and community services) and can be overwhelmed…” http://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/faq/health-effects.aspx
Personally , I have enjoyed better health in the last few years. I do feel some stress from caregiving, mainly from the responsibility resting on my shoulders for two other lives. I do find reward in caregiving. I think I came out of the womb a caregiver, though. In early grade school I read my dad’s first aid books and practiced bandaging on anyone who would hold still.
I’m not saying I jump for joy when things are tough. I have all the feelings other caregivers have, if fleetingly, like guilt, loneliness, resentment, and impatience. If I had it to do over again, I would do the same thing. I believe my mom has gained at least five quality years of life she wouldn’t have had if we weren’t caring for her. Living with my parents as an adult has given me the opportunity to know them in a different way and learn things about them I never knew.
I do see an upside to these numbers, though. The market for services to the elderly can only grow. Of course the need for care facilities will grow. It goes beyond that though, think über type transportation to appointments and treatments for the elderly, meal services, home repairs, devices that allow remote checking on the elderly. As technology grows, surely better monitoring systems are inevitable. If caregivers can keep working because of services available to their parents, and the elderly remain independent longer, everyone wins.