Friday, January 20, 2017

Need for caregivers growing while supply shrinks

Volunteer U.S. caregiving force of 40 million is in grave danger, doctor asserts in N.Y. Times

The American reliance on a volunteer caregiving force may be unsustainable.


Because the demand for caregivers is growing — due to longer life expectancies and more complex medical care, according to a story in The New York Times by Dr. Dhruv Khullar, resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston — while the supply is shrinking, "a result of declining marriage rates, smaller family sizes and greater geographic separation."

That, Khullar indicates, is what members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine think.

His piece notes that "some 40 million Americans…help a parent, grandparent, relative or neighbor [every day] with basic needs: dressing, bathing, cooking, medications or transportation."

Dr. Dhruv Khullar
And it suggests the AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving believe "the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for an older relative — but nearly a quarter of caregivers are now millennials and are equally likely to be male or female."

A third of them apparently provide more than 21 hours of care weekly.

Mostly, they're unpaid, "but the economic value of their care is estimated at $470 billion a year — roughly the annual American spending on Medicaid."

About a third of the total also have full-time job, and a quarter work part-time.

The strain on caregivers is evident, however.

Especially when it comes to finances.

Sixty percent of those caring for older family members, the Times story says, end up cutting their work hours, taking a leave of absence or making other career changes.

In addition, "family caregivers are more likely to experience negative health effects like anxiety, depression and chronic disease."

One study Khullar cited found that those caring for a disabled spouse and experiencing mental or emotional distress "were 63 percent more likely to die within four years than noncaregivers."

His article says one way of helping caregivers is to bolster counseling and support services available to them. Another way would be to develop "respite programs to temporarily relieve them of their responsibilities."  

Details about overcoming such stresses and distresses can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregiving.

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