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Today’s Caregivers are Tomorrow’s Patients

Today’s Caregivers are Tomorrow’s Patients


Almost everyone has a personal connection to caregiving, and I’m no exception. November is National Family Caregivers Month, where we recognize more than 40 million1 caregivers in the U.S. that provide care and support for their loved ones. My experience has been a well-orchestrated dance, balancing careers and caregiving. My children have experienced medical issues throughout their lives resulting in the need for care, requiring varying levels of intense attention and support over time. My husband and I have been lucky to have had the benefit of being able to rely on support from our families to help cover gaps and provide additional hands when needed, but I know this is not everyone’s experience.

Today’s caregivers are tomorrow’s patients

Caregiving takes an enormous toll. It affects your life physically, financially and mentally. Studies show that many caregivers put their own health and needs on the backburner in order to prioritize care for their loved one, ignoring their own doctor appointments and personal care. According to AARP, one in four primary caregivers have said that caregiving has negatively impacted their health, and 17 percent of caregivers consider their health as fair or poor, compared to 10 percent of the general adult population who reported similar feelings about their health.1 What if we could equip caregivers early on with the tools, resources and support that will help them not only take care of their loved ones, but also make sure they are taking care of themselves, so that today’s caregivers don’t become tomorrow’s patients?

A flexible and supportive work environment can help lessen the financial impact

In taking care of my children, I have been lucky enough to have employers who allow me to have a flexible work schedule to accommodate last-minute needs and emergencies. However, many caregivers need to reduce hours or stop work completely, taking a toll on their professional development and ultimately, their financial health. In fact, 66% of caregivers report changing their work routines, from coming in late to giving up work entirely.1 Caregivers spend an average of 25 hours a week providing unpaid care—an effort that experts estimate would total up to $375 billion of services per year.1 This shift in productivity ultimately impacts the broader U.S. economy, with costs for lost productivity due to caregiver absenteeism reaching an estimated $25.2 billion per year.2

The emotional toll of caregiving

Oftentimes, the emotional aspect of caregiving is overlooked. Caregivers are asked to make sacrifices every day, and many are thrust into this position unexpectedly, with little to no training or support. Caregivers may find themselves putting their lives on pause or drawing back from family and friends to fulfill their duties. Understandably, this takes a significant emotional toll on caregivers and may leave them feeling isolated or unsupported. 

This isolation, coupled with added responsibilities, can have a negative impact on a caregiver, with more than 70 percent of caregivers reporting clinically significant symptoms of depression.3

A check that’s never cashed

Sometimes it’s the little things—a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on—that can make the biggest difference to a caregiver. When caring for my kids, I found it helpful to share my story. People are surprisingly supportive and empathetic, and they want to help. Friends and family often say, “Let me know what I can do to help.” But the result is often a check that’s never cashed, partially because many caregivers are hesitant to accept the help. While the choice of disclosing your caregiving status is personal, I know from experience that saying yes to offers of help made a huge difference in my day. It wasn’t just one less thing to do, it was support and connection.

A call for better support

Caregivers need to know they are not alone, and that the role they play is hugely important to patients and the healthcare system overall. From providing comfort during difficult times, to driving to and from appointments, to identifying and administering the proper care, caregivers make a meaningful difference. For all these reasons, caregivers deserve better support and resources. Patient outcomes will always improve with good support, but we must not let the caregivers’ need for support fall to the wayside in the process.

This National Family Caregivers Month and every month, I encourage you to not only thank a caregiver you know for the sacrifices they make to take care of someone they love but offer a very specific way you can help. Consider they may be too tired or overwhelmed to even voice what they might need. So, offer specific tasks to make the support real, instead of putting the ask back on the caregiver. “Can I bring over dinner on Tuesday?” “Can I do your laundry later tonight?”

When we support caregivers, even in the smallest of ways, they provide better care to their loved ones.


Sources

[1]. National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S. [online]. Available at: https://www.aarp.org/ppi/info-2015/caregiving-in-the-united-states-2015.html. Last accessed: November 13, 2019.

[2]. Gallup-Healthways. (2011). Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Survey: Caregiving Costs U.S. Economy $25.2 Billion in Lost Productivity. [online]. Available at: https://news.gallup.com/poll/148670/caregiving-costs-economy-billion-lost-productivity.aspx. Last accessed: November 13, 2019.

[3]. Family Caregiver Alliance, 2006 [online]. Available at: https://www.caregiver.org/sites/caregiver.org/files/pdfs/v1_consensus.pdf.  Last accessed: November 13, 2019.