Family caregivers are often unrecognized in our country’s ongoing acute care health reform discussions. The primary reason is their costs are often born by families and are off the “country’s healthcare books”. It is estimated that uncompensated caregiving expenses approach $500 billion annually in the USA. The direction in reforming health care – minimizing number of hospital admissions and decreasing length of stay, if admitted – are designed to lower acute health care costs yet puts more caregiving responsibilities on family and friends.
The role of a family caregiver is time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and exhausting. On average, family caregivers spend 24 hours per week of high-intensity caregiving at an annual cost of $7,000. According to evidence compiled by the Family Caregiver Alliance, burdens of caregiving are so heavy that family caregivers, themselves, are at risk of serious emotional, mental, and physical health problems.
Estimates show that between 40% and 70% of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. More than one-fifth (22%) of caregivers report being exhausted when they go to bed at night, and many feel they cannot handle all their caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers also experience chronic conditions at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers. These burdens and health risks reduce the quality of life for both caregivers and their “cared for” loved ones.
Most caregivers live near the people they care for. Eighty-three percent of caregivers care for relatives, with 24% living with the care recipient, 61% living up to one hour away, and 15% – or about 7,000,000 caregivers – living a one- to two-hour drive or more away.
The number of unique caregiving situations demands that as a country we offer flexibility to caregivers in balancing their work and caregiving commitments. The emotional pressure of being in two places at once is often present for these individuals; as is the sense of isolation for the care recipient and the caregiver. The caregiver often becomes overwhelming focused on caregiving responsibilities and disengages from many previously enjoyable and rewarding parts of their own life.
It is our belief that as a society we must harness technology to ease this burden on both the caregiver and recipient of care. That problem’s solution is ahead of us, exciting, and needed.