November is National Caregivers Month, a month dedicated to thanking, educating and supporting informal, unpaid caregivers throughout America. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 65.7 million people, or 29% of the U.S. adult population, are acting as caregivers to family and friends who are ill, disabled or aged. The value of these unpaid caregiving services was estimated at $450 billion a year in 2009. The New York Times reported last month that middle-income Americans are especially struggling to care for their aging family members. Their annual incomes do not allow them the discretionary income to afford around-the-clock, nursing home care, but their incomes are too high to qualify them for assistance from Medicaid. Additionally, Medicare stops paying for nursing home bills after 100 days.
Sometimes the stress of caregiving can worsen the health of the caregiver. A study published last year by MetLife Mature Market Institute in collaboration with the National Alliance for Caregiving and the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging found that if you are a caregiver, it will likely affect both your health and your employer’s healthcare costs. Employees caring for older relatives are more likely to report health problems such as depression and hypertension. The healthcare costs for these employees are eight percent higher than for non-caregivers. Younger caregivers (18-39) generate even higher health care costs for employers- about 11 percent more than other employees.
The study recommends improvements in access to flexible work schedules, paid time off and telecommuting as ways to reduce the health problems that caregivers experience and also to show support for caregiving in the workplace. The full study can be found here.
Just last month, the Family Caregiver Alliance launched their Caregiver College Video Series for 2011. This great resource offers an introduction and seven concise chapters that help the family caregiver with their daily caregiving efforts. Contents include transferring, nutrition, personal care challenges, behavior issues and the all important caregiver self-care.