Seniors: Who Cares for the Caregivers?

There is often tremendous discussion centered around the elderly population and how to care for them (especially given the fact that Americans are living increasingly longer). However this subject is often prioritized at the expense of the caregivers themselves. The question all too often not asked is “who will care for the caregivers?”

As a result of this phenomenon, a study was recently published indicating that the wellness of the elderly themselves is potentially at risk. If the US fails to assist the millions of caregivers who are sacrificing their own health, financial and personal well-being to care for their loved ones, this will ultimately lead to breakdown of care for the elderly themselves. The statistics speak for themselves; almost 18 million people are caring for a relative in the 65+ age bracket. Yet their needs are all but being completely dismissed.

This phenomenon has to change. And indeed efforts are being made in this vein. A committee of experts in the health care and aging industry was created which has argued that caregiving has to become “a critical issue of public policy” with the 2017 presidential administration developing a “national strategy to develop ways to support caregivers, including economically.” The study also found the family caregivers are spending around 253 hours a month caregiving – around the same time as two full time jobs – without pay or compensation. Furthermore, around 40 percent of the workforce is not covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Wells Fargo Private Bank’s National Manager of Life Management Services, Anne Tinyo has seen the problem become quite desperate. She said that caregivers are increasingly burning out, to such an extent that they are dying before the elderly relatives for whom they are caring. The immune system becomes weakened, the stress and strain for many years taking its toll. They rarely complain as they feel so burdened with their caregiving workload and other responsibilities that early intervention is not early enough and thus they cannot receive the medical attention they need.

Currently there are online support groups for these people. In addition, services are offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. The National Alliance for Caregiving provides many resources (as well as validation from research on the long-term impact of caregiving). And of course there are adult day care centers which offer respite as well as institutionalized care. One such organization has already got on board with the understanding of the difficult role of caregivers. Virginia’s Insight Memory Care Center (that helps those with Alzheimer’s) started offering cruises for caregivers!

So there are some important changes happening but still a lot more needs to happen to ensure caregivers are cared for and needs being met.