AARP concerned for working caregivers. Advice from Dr. Michael Fine

Published in RINewsToday on August 9, 2021

After the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic initially shuttered the nation’s businesses over a year ago and with Delta variant cases now surging among the 50 percent of the population not fully vaccinated, AARP releases a 17-page report exploring the concerns of working caregivers about returning to pre-pandemic business routines. 

AARP’s national survey, examining caregiver concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, was conducted by phone and online panel on July 1-7, 2021, and included 800 U.S. residents 18 years or older who are currently providing unpaid care to an adult relative or friend and employed either full-time or part-time (but not self-employed).

Six in ten caregivers responding to the survey were paid hourly, while nearly four in ten are salaried workers. Almost seven in ten say that their job is “essential.” 

The researchers found that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted how working caregivers balanced their work and caregiving roles. Four in five caregivers expressed feeling stressed by juggling these dual responsibilities. More than three in five of the respondents say that they were spending more time caring for their loved one(s). When asked about the next 12 months, two-thirds of all working caregivers expect some, or a great deal of, difficulty balancing both job and caregiving roles. 

According to the AARP study, “Working Caregivers’ and Desires in a Post-Pandemic Workplace,” about half of working family caregivers were offered new benefits during the pandemic, including flexible hours (65%), paid leave (34%) and mental health or self-care resources (37%). About half of those surveyed were able to telework due to COVID 19; by early July, 22% were still working from home full time and 30% were working from home at least part-time. For those who could work from home, nearly nine in 10 said it helped them balance work and care responsibilities – and 75% are worried about how they will manage when their pre-pandemic schedules resume.

“Employers would be wise to consider how benefits like paid leave and flexible hours can help the one in six workers who are also caring for a loved one,” said Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President, AARP Research in an Aug. 4 statement released announcing the release of the report. “Living through the pandemic was challenging for working family caregivers – while some were helped by new workplace benefits and flexibility, the vast majority are worried about how to balance both roles going forward. Our research opens a window into how the pandemic changed the workplace and what working caregivers are concerned about in the coming year,” says Bryant.

As offices and other in-person workplaces begin to slowly re-open, many caregivers expressed concerns that they would bring the virus home to infect loved ones (63%) or contract COVID at work (53%). About three in five are worried about leaving the person they care for alone while they go to work. Among those who were able to work at home during the pandemic, almost nine in ten would like the option to continue doing so at least some of the time. And more than four in ten caregivers said they would consider looking for a new job if the benefits they were offered during the pandemic were rolled back.

AARP offers a range of free tools and resources to help employers retain working caregivers, including tip sheets, tool kits and online training for managers. The resources are available at www.aarp.org/employercaregivin

Dr. Michael FineThe pandemic of the unvaccinated

Don’t let your guard down, even if you’re vaccinated, warns Dr. Michael Fine, the former Rhode Island Director of the Department of Health. As the COVID-19 Delta variant cases spike across the nation, “it’s the pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he says. “Now 97% of the hospitalized are unvaccinated. As community transmission rises, it is more likely that vaccinated people will get infected and spread the virus,” he says.

Dr. Fine further responded to requests about how we should approach this latest wave of COVID in Rhode Island:

“For most vaccinated people, Covid-19 will be a mild disease,” says Fine.  For those with chronic disease like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, COPD and cancer, one study from Israel suggests that the risk of hospitalization and death is equal to the unvaccinated,” he says.  

“As community transition rises, I’m expecting some hospitalizations and death in vaccinated people with chronic disease. That group would do well to self-isolate — to stay home and let others shop for them, until community transmission falls to less than 35/100,000/week. We are now a place with high transmission, about 140/100,000/week,” states Fine.

Fine urges businesses to require all employees working together to be vaccinated, wear masks and get weekly Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for the COVID-19 virus.

Teleconferencing technology should replace onsite or outside meetings, he says.  

Working caregivers can be protected from bringing COVID-19 home by being vaccinated and should get two PCR tests a week, and limit contact with other people by avoiding shopping at stores or going to restaurants.

AARP launches campaign to support Family Caregivers

Published in RINewsToday on July 5, 2021

With caregiving costs skyrocketing, and with caregivers now estimated to be spending $7,242 annually out-of-pocket, AARP launches a national campaign to push for passage of the Credit for Caring Act.

The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group has endorsed the bipartisan legislative proposal that would provide up to a $5,000 nonrefundable federal tax credit for eligible working family caregivers. The caregiver bill was introduced on May 18th  in the Senate by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and in the House by Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA).

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 study, there are an estimated 48 million Americans who provide care to either an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months. The study showed an increase of about 8 million caregivers from 2015 to 2020, indicating a significant growth in the nation’s caregivers’ population.

A 2019 AARP Public Policy Institute report noted that family caregivers in the United States provide $470 billion in uncompensated care.

Calling for Congressional Action to Assist Caregivers

AARP’s national campaign, urging passage of the Credit for Caring Act and more support for family caregivers, involves significant grassroots advocacy, including at least 60 tele-town halls, a major digital and video advertising initiative, and social media outreach through AARP’s national and state offices. Already, more than 100,000 contacts have been made with Members. In addition, more than 110 organizations, including 36 military and veterans service and support organizations, have joined AARP in asking Congress to pass the act. 

“This research reflects the incredible strain and sacrifices our 48 million family caregivers face every day. They are the backbone of our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking from a lack of support,” said Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP Executive vice president and Chief Advocacy Officer in a June 29th statement announcing the kick-off of its new national grassroots campaign and also the release of its newest caregiver study, “AARP’s Caregiving Out- of-Pocket Costs Study.”

Adds AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor: “This research reflects the incredible strain and sacrifices the 136,000 family caregivers in Rhode Island face every day. They are the backbone of our long-term care system, yet their backs are breaking,” 

“AARP research shows family caregivers contribute 114 million hours each year in their vital roles, “Taylor noted.

“We hear from so many caregivers from across the state who struggle financially,” Taylor added. “It is heartbreaking to know that cost, along with stress, fatigue and other factors take their toll over time. The need for support is more than evident.”

The Cost of Caregiving

Last month, AARP released its caregiver study, putting a spotlight on the out-of-pocket costs of caregiving, taking a close look at the financial strains on family caregivers and financial sacrifices (uncompensated care) they make in providing assistance to their loved ones. The study is a five year follow up to the landmark 2016 out-of- pocket caregiving study.

According to newly released study, nearly 8 in 10 of those caring for an adult family member (78%) are facing regular out-of-pocket costs, with the highest burden falling on younger caregivers and those who are Hispanic/Latino or African American. AARP researchers tracked what caregivers pay for using their own money and found average annual spending totaled $7,242 and, on average, 26% of the caregiver’s income. Housing expenses like rent or mortgage payments, home modifications, and assisted living made up more than half of caregivers’ spending, followed by medical expenses at 17%.

Out-of-pocket spending is much greater for some groups of caregivers, either in total dollars spent or as a percentage of average household income.

The researchers say that working caregivers who reported two work-related strains from caregiving, such as taking time off or working more hours, spend $10,525 each year on average – twice as much as caregivers who report one or no work-related strains.

AARP’s caregiver study also examined how caregiving financially impact between different generations of caregivers. Gen X caregivers spent the most money at $8,502. However, Gen Z and Millennial caregivers reported the greatest financial strain (spending on average $7,462 per year), spending a larger share of their household income. These caregivers have less time in the workforce to build financial security.

The AARP study found that Hispanic/Latino and African American caregivers also reported greater financial strain than White or Asian American caregivers. Hispanic/Latino caregivers spent on average, 47% of their household income on caregiving, and expenses for African American caregivers totaled, on average, 34% of income.

Researchers also found that caregivers caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia or mental health issues tend to spend more ($8,978 per year and $8,384 per year, respectively) than those caring for someone without those conditions.

Work-related or personal strain as a result of caregiving can impact the caregiver’s long term financial security, too, say the researchers.  Nearly 47% of caregivers have experienced at least one setback as a result of being a caregiver. These setbacks include dipping into personal savings, cutting back on their own spending, and reducing how much they save for their retirement years.

More than 53% have experienced at least one work-related impact as the result of caregiving. Taking time off (both paid or unpaid) and working different hours are ways that caregiving impacts work. 

In addition to direct out-of-pocket spending, caregivers are also experiencing indirect financial setbacks. Nearly half of family caregivers (47%) experienced at least one financial setback such as having to cut back on their own health care spending, dip into their personal savings or reduce how much they save for their retirement.

Send your letters to Congress urging passage of the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act.  With an aging society and the number of caregivers increasing, a $5,000 nonrefundable federal tax credit for eligible working family caregivers might just help to pay the mounting costs of caregiving expenses. 

For more details about AARP’s caregiver study, go to:  https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/ltc/2021/family-caregivers-cost-survey-2021.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00473.001.pdf.

More resources for family caregivers, including a free financial workbook, are available at aarp.org/caregiving.

One Year Later – Two Surveys Examine Impact of COVID-19

Published in RINewsToday on May24, 2021

Over the year the raging pandemic has impacted on the physical and mental health of Americans. With daily COVID case counts now the lowest since last year and hospitals seeing less coronavirus hospitalizations, most states, including Rhode Island, are now opening up.

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) latest Stress in AmericaTM poll (findings released on March 11, 2021), the nation’s health crisis is far from over. Just one year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, many adults report increased negative behaviors, such as undesired changes to their weight and increased drinking, that may be related to their inability to cope with prolonged stress.

APA’s survey of U.S. adults, conducted in late February 2021 by The Harris Poll, shows that a majority of adults (61 percent) experienced undesired weight changes—weight gain or loss—since the pandemic started, with 42 percent reporting they gained more weight than they intended. Of these individuals, they gained an average of 29 pounds (the median amount gained was 15 pounds) and 10 percent stated they gained more than 50 pounds, noted the poll’s findings.

Gaining Weight Bad for Your Health

Weight changes come with significant health risks, including higher vulnerability to serious illness from COVID-19.  According to the National Institute of Health, people who gain more than 11 pounds are at higher risk of developing Type II diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease, and people who gain more than 24 pounds are at higher risk of developing ischemic stroke. 

For the 18 percent of Americans who said they lost more weight than they wanted to, the average amount of weight lost was 26 pounds (median amount lost was 12 pounds). Adult respondents also reported unwanted changes in sleep patterns and increased alcohol consumption. Two in 3 (67 percent) said they have been sleeping more or less than desired since the pandemic started. Nearly 1 in 4 adults (or 23 percent) reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress.

“We’ve been concerned throughout this pandemic about the level of prolonged stress, exacerbated by the grief, trauma and isolation that Americans are experiencing. This survey reveals a secondary crisis that is likely to have persistent, serious mental and physical health consequences for years to come,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr, PhD, APA’s chief executive officer, in a March 21st statement announcing the results of the study’s findings. 

Evans calls on health and policy leaders to come together quickly to provide additional behavioral health supports as part of any national recovery plan.

The researchers found that the pandemic took a particularly heavy toll on parents of children under 18-years old. While slightly more than 3 in 10 adults (31 percent) reported their mental health has worsened compared with before the pandemic, nearly half of mothers who still have children home for remote learning (47 percent) say that their mental health has worsened; 30 percent of the fathers who still have children home said the same. 

APA’s study also found that parents were more likely than those without children to have received treatment from a mental health professional (32 percent vs. 12 percent) and to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic began (24 percent vs. 9 percent). More than half of fathers (55 percent) reported gaining weight, and nearly half (48 percent) said they are drinking more alcohol to cope with stress.

As to essential workers, (either persons working in health care or law enforcement), the majority said that they relied on a lot of unhealthy habits to get through the year-long pandemic. Nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent said their mental health has worsened, while 3 in 4 (75 percent) said they could have used more emotional support than they received since the pandemic began. Essential workers were more than twice as likely as adults who were not essential workers to have received treatment from a mental health professional (34 percent vs. 12 percent) and to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the coronavirus pandemic started (25 percent vs. 9 percent).

Furthermore, people of color noted that unintended physical changes occurred during the pandemic. Hispanic adults were most likely to report undesired changes to sleep (78 percent Hispanic vs. 76 percent Black, 63 percent white and 61 percent Asian), physical activity levels (87 percent Hispanic vs. 84 percent Black, 81 percent Asian and 79 percent white) and weight (71 percent Hispanic vs. 64 percent Black, 58 percent white and 54 percent Asian) since the beginning of the pandemic.

Black Americans were most likely to report feelings of concern about the future, say the researchers, noting that more than half said they do not feel comfortable going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic (54 percent Black vs. 48 percent Hispanic, 45 percent Asian and 44 percent white).  They also feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends (57 percent Black vs. 51 percent Asian, 50 percent Hispanic and 47 percent white).

“It’s clear that the pandemic is continuing to have a disproportionate effect on certain groups,” said APA President Jennifer Kelly, PhD. “We must do more to support communities of color, essential workers and parents as they continue to cope with the demands of the pandemic and start to show the physical consequences of prolonged stress,” says Kelly.

COVID-19’s Impact on Seniors

A newly released AARP study, released on May 10, 2021, has found that more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, most adults age 50 and older say that it has had a negative impact on their mental health. Researchers found that seven in 10 older adults reported an increase in sadness or depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly 8 in 10 said they had increased concern about the future, worry or anxiety. Half of adults 50 and older reported feelings of anxiety in the last two weeks, and 56% noted difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, say the study’s findings.

“If you are feeling stressed and anxious after the last year, you are far from alone!” said Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research at AARP in a statement announcing the survey results. “As our survey highlights, most older adults’ mental health and wellbeing was affected by the pandemic—and some of the ways we coped might not have been great for our health, either. With many communities returning to normal, we hope older adults will consider taking steps to reclaim their health this spring and summer,” she said.

Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic

According to the AARP study findings, seniors are responding to the increased stress in a variety of ways. About one in four of the respondents reported they are eating comfort foods or “unhealthy foods” like chips and candy more often than before the pandemic. And 27 percent of people 50 and over have increased the time they spend praying or meditating. One in 10 survey respondents reported seeking mental health care in the last year, a third of whom did so specifically because of the pandemic. Overall, 15 percent of older adults said that experiencing the pandemic made them more likely to seek help from a mental health provider if they had concerns.

AARP’s survey also highlighted how the pandemic increased loneliness and isolation among those age 50 and over.  Among older adults, 58 percent reported feeling increased loneliness, and 62 percent were less likely to socialize with friends and family compared to before the pandemic.