One day a week I join with 65 million other people in the US, and assume the role of family caregiver. I drive 40 miles to my mother’s home, and do bills & pills, grocery shop, wash clothes and dishes, take her to appointments (which I have made for her), and more…much more. Sometimes, though, I just sit and listen. During the rest of the week, I do things that don’t require me being on-the-spot. Am I a noble person? I don’t know. I don’t think of what I do in those terms. I do it because it needs to be done. And, like the 65 M others out there doing the same thing, I don’t charge for my services.
It’s been estimated that annual costs associated with family caregiving in the US amount to approximately $535 Billion. But wait – 70% of the cost for caregiving services, about $375 Billion, is provided free of charge by people like me (with only $158 billion in cash actually being “spent”). But does that mean that 70% of services are really free? Read on – and draw your own conclusions.
• 20% of employed caregivers over 50 report symptoms of depression compared to 8% for non-caregiving peers.
• 40 – 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression …(and about) half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.
• Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely. This level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life.
• The stress of caring for a person with dementia can impact the caregiver’s immune system for up to three years – thereby increasing the caregiver’s chances of developing a chronic illness.
• 72% of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should.
See the National Family Caregivers Assoc. website for these statistics, and more.And while we After Fiftiers are struggling right now to provide care for our parents, our spouses, our disabled children or other loved ones, what are we going to do to prepare for our own care when the time comes. Read those stats again. Family caregiving is thankless, stressful, damaging to one’s health and well-being. Yet, if we continue to wake up each morning, then the day will come when we’ll need care, too!
As we After Fiftiers age, we will see the numbers of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia double within our lifetimes. Exactly how is care going to be provided?
We need a national discussion about how caregiving will be provided for After Fiftiers in the very near future. We can’t continue to provide caregiving in a haphazard, health-depleting fashion. A tsunami of caregiving need is heading in our direction. And I predict – if we don’t prepare, then this tsunami is going to wipe every last one of us off our feet!