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The Financial Dilemma with Informal Caregivers

May 15, 2018 by Comfort Keepers of Riverside and Corona

In terms of long-term health care, many seniors are choosing to remain in their homes and age in place. This allows them to receive the much-needed care in the comforts of their own house, leading many to have happier end-of-life experiences than previously.

However, we’ve been severely underestimating the hidden cost of informal caregiving these past few years, and it’s only going to get worse in the decades to come.

Here’s what to know about informal caregiving, this potential economic crisis and how it can possibly be averted:

What is informal caregiving?

Many seniors who age in place receive help from a hired, or professional, caregiver. This person can help them with a variety of needs (depending on their scope of practice), ranging from:

  • Assisting with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, eating, going to the bathroom, and so forth
  • Custodial care, such as cooking, cleaning, or driving them to appointments
  • Medication management
  • Companionship

However, a large portion of seniors instead relies on informal caregivers. These caregivers are typically family members such as a spouse, adult child or another loved one who is providing care free of charge. This form of caregiving is not only more economically wise for many families, but it’s also a great way for the senior receiving care to socialize with other loved ones.

Estimations for 2035

For stroke and heart disease patients, informal caregiving is a large asset to their healthcare. What hasn’t been realized is how costly this informal care may be in the years to come.

It is estimated that almost half of the U.S. population – over 131 million Americans – will be living with heart disease and stroke aftermath by 2035.

A study on heart disease and stroke patients estimates that also by this year, the costs for informal caregiving will be:

  • $128 billion in total, jumping from $61 billion currently
  • $66 billion for stroke care on its own, accounting for over half of that $128 billion
  • $53 billion for patients over 80
  • $18 billion more for female patients than male, as women tend to experience heart disease at later age and have longer lifespans
  • Most expensive individually for African Americans stroke patients, and most expensive collectively for white non-Hispanic heart disease patients (as they make up the largest part of the population)

The costs are going up primarily for two reasons. For starters, more patients will be diagnosed with heart disease and stroke in the years to come due to the population growing older, thus causing more people to require informal care.

Correspondingly, the increase in caregiving needs in total as well as a per-individual basis is increasing strain on the informal caregivers themselves, putting them at risk for health conditions and financial struggle.

Concrete Fiscal Steps We Can Take

The American Heart Association suggests policy changes to be made sooner rather than later to help protect informal caregivers and prevent this future economic crisis.

Suggested changes include:

  • Supporting informal caregivers more under VA benefits, Medicaid and Medicare, per the suggestion of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s 2016 report
  • Spending more money on caregiving research, especially effective ways to support and better educate caregivers in order to emphasize their wellbeing and productivity
  • Providing the framework for private and public businesses to construct and execute a nationally standard caregiving action plan by implementing the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act
  • Allowing advanced heart disease patients to access palliative care sooner by expanding their access in hospitals as well as home care

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