Care managers often see caregivers who are in distress and at the end of their patience. "It's been so long since anyone cared about me," can be a common refrain. Many caregivers feel this way. Their caregiving journey may be one they did not expect to take-and they can be ill-equipped to handle it.
More than 65 million family caregivers in the United States provide the majority of care for dependent elders, as well as for adults and children with disabilities and chronic illnesses. And although now approximately 6 million adults older than 65 need daily assistance to live outside a nursing home, that already astronomical number will grow to more than 12 million by 2030.
Caregiving today requires more knowledge and skill as patients are released "quicker and sicker" from hospitals (and current caregiving stints last longer, often for five or more years). Family caregivers now are tackling tasks that in the past were left to nurses-monitoring chronic and sometimes acute medical conditions, as well as providing long-term services and supports at home. It's not surprising many caregivers feel unprepared, unsupported, overburdened and stressed. The best predictor of nursing home placement in the United States is not the health of the older adult, but the health of the family caregiver. Yet what supports are available, and are they sufficient?
The Costs of Caregiving
Family caregivers shoulder the responsibility of long-term care in our country- an estimated $450 billion per year savings for our overburdened healthcare system. According to AARP's 2011 publication, Valuing the Invaluable, that number is as much as the total sales of the world's largest companies, including Wal-Mart ($408 billion in 2009, the most of any company) and the three largest publicly held auto companies combined (Toyota, Ford and Daimler: total value $439 billion). Family caregivers are invaluable, yet largely neglected in the healthcare system.
The potential physical, mental, financial and social costs to family caregivers have been well documented. Another concern is the risk for abuse and neglect. Risk factors such as caregiver burnout, compassion fatigue and post-traumatic stress as a result of caregiving can be successfully ameliorated by caregivers having access to effective caregiver support programs.
Six Actions to Avert the Crisis
In October 2010, RCI (Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving) released a position paper outlining 12 recommendations for averting our nation's caregiving crisis. Since then, RCI has sought feedback from all sectors of government and professionals involved in service delivery, …