Unpaid care is the main source of long term care in the United States and with an increasing need for care comes an increasing burden on caregivers. A recent Harvard report tackles the issue of caregiver burden and its potential effects.
Long Term Caregivers
According to the report, an estimated 43.5 million friends and family are currently acting as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones. Although the majority of Americans aren’t prepared for the risk of becoming or needing a caregiver, an estimated 7 in 10 seniors will need long term care at some point. 9 in 10 of those that receive long term care receive it from a friend or family member and most long term care takes place at home.
When it comes to unpaid care giving, there is often some sort of burden involved. The objectives of the report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month, were to outline the epidemiology of caregiver burden and provide strategies for physicians to help those with caregiver burden.
The study published in JAMA found that most caregivers are women who spend between 20 and 40 hours every week providing care. Women are more likely to be caregivers because they have longer life expectancies, meaning they are more likely to be around to provide care when their spouse or partner needs it. 20% of all caregivers spend more than 40 hours each week providing care to a friend or family member. Though this time spent providing care takes some physical and emotional tolls on the caregiver, the report noted caregiver burden is often overlooked by clinicians.
When providing long term care to a loved one, many different effects occur in the caregiver’s life. Common ones include physical or emotional exhaustion, financial troubles, missing work, and becoming socially isolated. The Harvard study found that 32% of caregivers have high caregiver burden, which can often manifest itself by way of depression, social isolation, illness, and financial problems. The authors of the study recommend that in addition to checking the health of the patient during a clinic visit, physicians should also check the caregiver’s health.
“Most physicians haven’t been trained to ask patients about it, and it’s a new clinical habit that you have to consciously adopt and work on,” says geriatrician Dr. Anne Fabiny, medical editor of Caregiver’s Handbook, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Assessing Caregiver Burden
Ways to assess the health of the caregiver is asking how they are coping with the responsibility of being a caregiver, how they would describe their quality of life, how often they get out and engage in social activity, and other similar questions. The answers clinicians receive can help them direct the caregiver to resources that can provide help or temporary respite when necessary.
The average dementia patient receives unpaid care valued at $56,290 from friends and family members each year. As the need for long term care grows across the nation, the number of available caregivers continues to shrink.
An AARP report found that the ratio of available caregivers to long term care recipient is estimated to drop to 4:1 in 2030, down from 7:1 in 2010. This coupled with the fact that the number of Americans aged 85 and older will double between 2000 and 2030 means planning for long term care must become a priority before it becomes an overwhelming financial problem for the nation.
Long Term Care Insurance can help those with assets hedge their risk of needing care and protect their nest egg from the growing cost of care. Long Term Care Insurance isn’t right for every one, but it is often right for those with retirement savings not meant to be spent on health care.