November is National Family Caregivers Month

The Caregiver Action Network is the nation’s leading family caregiver organization working to help the more than 90 million Americans who care for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease or the frailties of old age.

CAN serves parents of children with special needs, families with returned wounded soldiers, young people diagnosed with MS as well as adult children caring for parents with Alzheimer’s disease. The Caregiver Action Network is a nonprofit organization providing education, support, and resources to family caregivers across the nation, free of charge.

There are nearly 15 million family members who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Further there is an estimated 15 million people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), often requiring caregiving by family members.

The value of the services family caregivers provide “for free” is estimated to be $375 billion a year which is twice as much as what is spent on homecare and nursing home services annually combined.

More than 65 million people — that is 29 percent of the U.S. population — provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing that care.

The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old married and otherwise employed woman who does not live with her 69-year-old widowed mother. Approximately 66 percent of family caregivers are women, and more than 37 percent have children and or grandchildren under the age of 18 living with them.

Fifty-one percent of care recipients live in their own home, while 29 percent live with their family caregivers and 4 percent live in nursing homes or assisted living. Thirty-six percent of family caregivers care for a parent and 70 percent care for a person who is over the age of 50. Fourteen percent of family caregivers care for a special needs child.

Although 20 hours a week is the average number of hours family caregivers spend caring for their loved ones, 13 percent of family caregivers provide 40 hours or more a week. Family caregivers exceed Medicaid long-term care spending in all states.

Women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to live in poverty and five times more likely to receive Supplemental Security Income.

Caregiving families have median incomes that are more than 15 percent lower than non-caregiving families, leading to an increased poverty rate in all states for families with members who require caregiving. Forty- seven percent of working caregivers indicate that an increase in caregiving expenses has caused them to use up all or most of their savings.

Twenty-three percent of family caregivers report that their health is “fair” or “poor,” and studies reported in various journals note that the stress of family caregiving can impact the caregiver’s immune system for up to three years after the caregiving ends. Further many caregivers report skipping their own doctors’ appointments and having poor eating habits and exercise habits because of their caregiving duties.

Twenty percent of employed female caregivers over 50 years of age report symptoms of depression compared to 8 percent of noncare giving 50-year-old women.

Further, more than 11 percent of family caregivers report that caregiving has caused their physical health to deteriorate.

Sixty percent of caregivers are employed otherwise and 66 percent of those caregivers report that they have had to make some adjustments to their work life including giving up work entirely. American businesses it is estimated, lose up to as much as $34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for their loved one over the age of 50.

The Caregiveraction.org website gives its top 10 tips for family caregivers. They promote seeking support from other caregivers, taking care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to help your family members who need you, learning to accept the help of others, and learning to communicate effectively with doctors and other healthcare providers.

Family caregiving is a necessary and difficult undertaking. If you are in this situation, reach out for help and as much as possible take care of yourself. You have others depending on you!

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Dr. Jane Riley, Ed.D., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-8119 cell/text, www.janerileyfitness.com.

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