As the 80 million baby boomers age into retirement, caregiving has become one of the most talked about subjects in healthcare. Studies have shown that nearly 50 million Americans are providing tens of billions of hours in unpaid “patient” care for loved ones. Many do this in addition to full-time jobs and other family commitments. If these individuals were being paid it would cost nearly $400 billion per year. As rewarding as it can be to care for a loved one who is ill or otherwise physically unable to manage his or her life, over time it can take a toll on the caregiver. Many caregivers are older individuals themselves and often neglect their own health issues in caring for others. The important thing to realize is that there are supportive services and methods to maintain some sense of balance while caregiving.
Who Are Caregivers?
In reality, we may all be caregivers at some point in our lives, as well as need a caregiver ourselves. Today, caregivers are spouses, children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends and distant relatives. Other variations on caregiving depend on geography. There are caregivers living with or near their loved ones, but caregivers may also have many of the same responsibilities while living far away. In these cases the caregiver has to rely on local support and others to coordinate the care. Caregivers, whether family or friends, often provide the primary support for everything from buying groceries and cooking to getting medications and administering injections. Caregivers may even have to perform tasks traditionally done by healthcare workers such as dressing wounds, transferring a person from a wheelchair to a bed and helping them bathe. The caregiver may arrange for healthcare appointments, treatments, and transportation, and may need to have a close working relationship with physicians. In short, they are often the unpaid, on-call, 24/7 support service for their loved one.
Advice to the New Caregiver
Work with your loved one and his or her healthcare providers to fully understand the disease or physical disability and what to expect over time. What services will be needed? What will be the costs? What are your limitations for caregiving? Complete advance directives to ensure your loved one’s wishes are both understood and honored. The conversations necessary to do this can be difficult, but start them as early as possible. During these conversations, help your loved one complete his or her Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney, which allows you to speak for them should they be unable to communicate in the future. Assess the resources of other family and friends so that you are not doing it all on your own. Talk with others to determine what level of support they can offer. This could be anything from financial assistance to care coordination and respite for you. Talk to local hospices and caregiving support organizations to discover what services are available in your community to help you manage and cope with your new role. Finally, take care of yourself as well! In order to continue to be a healthy and effective caregiver, you must give care to your physical, mental and spiritual self.
Businesses that Join the Coalition May Reduce Costs
Studies have shown that employee caregiver responsibilities cost businesses, on average, nearly $3,000 per employee. This includes costs associated with replacing employees, absenteeism, workday interruptions, supervisory time, and unpaid leave. As a Coalition member, you can access the support of our healthcare members and find resources to help your employees navigate caregiving in healthy and productive ways.