In the United States alone, it’s estimated that there are 5.5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 15 million people providing care to a family member with Alzheimer’s. Of those caregivers, about 60 percent are women. Many of these women also have jobs outside of the home and children to take care of. Simply put, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease is stressful and it can take a toll on overall health, wellness and finances.
As the population ages, the percentage of the population with Alzheimer’s disease – and the percentage of necessary caregivers – is likely to increase, at least until a cure is found. There are estimates that by the year 2050, there will be 13 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease. And according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are approximately 44 million unpaid adult caregivers in the United States currently. The Shriver Report states that these caregivers are providing $375 billion in unpaid care, which is more than our combined annual state and federal Medicaid program spending.
The effects of caregiving
While caregiving can be a rewarding experience and can even have positive effects (which we will touch on later), it can also have significant negative effects. It can be physically and emotionally stressful, which can take a toll on both mental and physical health. As noted in the Shriver Report, caregivers tend to suffer from depression, increased stress levels, chronic anxiety, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, heart disease, immune-system deficiency, and many other conditions at a greater rate than those in the non-caregiving population. They also have lower earning power due to their caregiving responsibilities affecting their available time for work. Studies abound that definitively show the negative effects of caregiving, and that has helped raise awareness of caregiving burnout, which has led to an increase in the services available to train and support caregivers.
So, what can be done?
When caregivers are well trained and comprehensively supported, they fare much better. In fact, according to a study published in the American Journal of Nursing, up to one-third of unpaid caregivers do not report any negative effects and, in fact, believe they experience positive effects from caregiving. These caregivers tend to have strong, effective support systems, and they tend to feel good about being part of another’s support system. This provides evidence that being part of a support system – whether as the one providing or receiving support – can be beneficial.
The Administration on Aging (AoA) established a National Family Caregiver Support Program to provide family and other informal caregivers support to help them be successful in their caregiving role. Some of the services they provide include information about available services; assistance with utilizing services; counseling, support groups, and caregiver training; respite care; and supplemental services.
As awareness grows and the societal effects of caregiver burnout increase, more and more programs are beginning to offer support to caregivers. However, caregiver burnout and stress is still a significant concern that will become more problematic in the future if we do not address the problem by being proactive and offering effective training and support to all caregivers. The Family Caregiver Alliance says these programs have a dual purpose – they help keep caregivers healthy and able to provide effective care, and they enable the people who need care to stay in their homes longer, and both have the potential to reduce the financial burden on state and federal governments, families, and private insurance companies.
How to help the caregivers
The Shriver Report lists several ideas to help caregivers and those they provide care for. These ideas include:
- Offer an elder tax credit to those caring for family members.
- Incentivize flextime programs for employers who allow caregivers to work flexible schedules to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities.
- Offer elder care leave, like family or medical leave.
- Increase access to high-quality Alzheimer’s training for family and paid caregivers.
- Offer more elder care programs, such as intergenerational daycare centers where people with Alzheimer’s can interact with children in a safe, loving setting and family caregivers can get a break from their duties.
- Provide more governmental support for in-home paid care, adult daycare, and respite to give families a break.
We are focused on providing the most advanced care to those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. If you’re suffering from burnout, check out our respite home care program to see how we can help to give you a much-needed break and read our latest tips on how to prevent caregiver burnout.