Caregivers—and new data—in the spotlight during National Family Caregivers Month

By Alison Biggar

November 2013 marks National Family Caregivers Month, the brainchild of the National Family Caregivers Association. It began in 1997 as a week of acknowledgement during Thanksgiving, but has now evolved into a month-long celebration of family caregivers.

Caregiving was studied extensively in the late 1990s and 2000s, but there are a few new findings from 2013, some that demonstrate progress, others that are valuable for advocacy’s sake.

  1. The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s June 2013 report, Family Caregivers Are Wired for Health, surveyed 3,014 adults and reveals that 39 percent of U.S. adults are now caregivers, and more than 75 percent of those have gone online to access health information. Many are heavy technology users—navigating healthcare needs, gaining support from family and friends, participating in online social activities related to health, searching for diagnoses online, seeking information, care and support from others with the same condition, and consulting online drug reviews.
  2. From the Center for a Secure Retirement comes an August 2013 study, Retirement Care Planning, the Middle-Income Boomer Perspective, which explores the baby boomer cohort’s experience with caregiving for a parent or spouse. The study found, perhaps not surprisingly, that 88 percent of middle-income baby boomer caregivers find caregiving more difficult than expected; 57 percent find it requires more emotional strength; 55 percent find it requires more patience; and 52 percent find it requires more time. Seventy-seven percent of these caregivers were caring for a parent, and 23 percent for a spouse.

    The study also showed that male baby boomers are doing more caregiving than earlier generations, with 32 percent classifying themselves as adult caregivers, whereas 44 percent of female baby boomers have been adult caregivers.

  3. Also in August 2013, an AARP Public Policy Institute report, The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers, looked at the impending dearth of caregivers and found that in 2010, the ratio of potential caregivers to care recipients ages 80 years and older was seven to one. By 2030, however, that ratio is expected to decline to four to one; and by 2050, to three to one. From AARP’s perspective this means we need new solutions to the financing and delivery of long-term services and supports, as well as new ways of supporting families.
  4. On the work front, the AARP Public Policy Institute’s June 2013 report, Keeping Up with the Times: Supporting Family Caregivers with Workplace Leave Policies, proposes the following policy solutions to ease the burden on caregivers and their employers: expand relationships covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); adopt policies at the state level that exceed federal eligibility requirements for FMLA; optimize work productivity and retention by promoting access to paid family leave insurance; run public awareness campaigns to educate workers about existing family leave policies; implement family-friendly workplace policies like caregiver support programs, referral to support services and flex-time workplace policies; and improve data collection on working caregivers with eldercare responsibilities (especially by the federal government).
  5. And finally, from the Alzheimer’s Association’s Latest Facts & Figures Report, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $203 billion in 2013, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.

Senior editor Alison Biggar is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and editor.