Family caregivers provided an estimated and unprecedented $450 billion in care in 2009, up from $375 billion two years earlier, according to AARP’s recent report, “Valuing the Invaluable: 2011 Update, The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving.”
The data also showed that the number of Americans aged 18 and older providing care at any given point in time to an adult with limitations in daily activities rose 23 percent to 42.1 million, and they spent an average of 18.4 hours per week on caregiving responsibilities. Alzheimer’s disease is among the illness that impact activities of daily living, such as dressing and eating. About 61.6 million Americans provided care at some time during the year.
The study also found that females represent 65 percent of caregivers, and more than eight in 10 are caring for a relative or friend aged 50 or older, including providing companionship and emotional support, helping with meal preparation and other household tasks, handling bills and insurance claims, and carrying out personal care, such as bathing and dressing.
“Family support is a key driver in remaining in one’s home and in the community, but it is not without substantial costs to the caregivers themselves, to their families, and to society. The 2009 estimate of the value of family caregiving is conservative because it does not quantify the physical, emotional and financial costs of care,” the report said.
Among AARP’s recommendations are: to implement “family-friendly” workplace policies that include flextime and telecommuting, referral to supportive services in the community, and caregiver support programs in the workplace; to provide adequate funding for respite programs like the Lifespan Respite Care Act; to encourage nurses, social workers and other health professionals to integrate family caregivers into the care team; and to develop tools that provide greater support to family caregivers.