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The Cost of Caregiving

As the population rapidly ages, more seniors need some level of assistance with their daily activities in order to stay at home, alone or with family members. That means more family caregivers than ever—about 34 million!--provide "free" care—that definitely is NOT free.

Recent research by the National Alliance of Caregivers and the National Family Caregiver Association shows that between 21 and 27 percent of adults in the U.S. have served as caregivers--about 44-50 million Americans.

The "free" service that caregivers provide has a value of about $257 billion a year, according to Peter Arno's report in American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry.

In the major study, Caregiving in the U.S., the National Alliance of Caregivers and AARP provide a wealth of information on caregiving, including the impact on the caregivers.

"We know that being a caregiver makes those who carry the heaviest responsibilities vulnerable to risks associated with poorer health, emotional stress and economic hardship. We need to help current at-risk caregivers so that they can continue to provide care to family and friends without sacrificing their health, financial security and quality of life in the process."

The costs: There are many hard dollar costs associated with caregiving, such as: full or co-pay costs for medical care and prescriptions; food; housing (paying to maintain their home or modifying your home to provide space for your loved one,) utilities, transportation, alert devices, mobility aides, home health aides ($18-25 hour) medical day service (about $80 per day, $1,600 a month!) long term care when needed ($4,000 to $10,000 a month!) loss of wages; loss of job, etc.

Multiple studies have shown that about 60% of those who provide 21 hours of care a week or more have suffered from depression. The mortality rate for intense caregivers is 63% higher than for their non-caregiver peers. Premature death is the "ultimate cost!"

Caregiving comes with great cost to the caregiver, many times. Stress, depression, isolation, falls, back problems (from lifting a loved one in and out of bed, a tub, a car or off the floor after a fall), neglect of their spouse, children, friends...

Dr. Vicki Rackner summarized the realities of caregiving this way: "Caregivers pay with losses that extend well beyond their bank accounts. They often forego the activities that bring joy and richness to their lives....like meeting friends, going on vacations. They pay with their time, the loss of professional opportunities and the erosion of personal relationships that result in isolation."

Dr. Rackner offers a prescription for the caregivers: Develop a plan for caregiving and for your own living. Decrease the financial and emotional costs by sharing the work. Explore and use community resources. It is ok to get help! Take care of yourself--don't neglect your own nutrition, sleep, exercise, medical appointments. If you start to get depressed, seek a respite—not a few hours but days or weeks if possible and consider counseling—for yourself. Identify a support group and interact with your peers providing a similar service. Take a deep breath and commend yourself for a difficult job well done!

Next Article: Women in the Middle: Support for Caregivers > trustworthy dementia care