Published in RINewsToday on March 13, 2023
Family caregivers put in over $36 Billion hours in unpaid care taking care of loved ones, a responsibility that takes a heavy toll on them financially, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
But now, a new AARP report reveals that the family caregiver unpaid work is estimated to be valued at more than $600 Billion. This is a $130 Billion increase in unpaid contributions from family caregivers since the last report in the series was released in 2019. The economic impact of $600 Billion is more than all out-of-pocket spending on health care in the U.S. in 2021, notes the AARP report.
The 32-page 2023 update, Valuing the Invaluable, highlights trends in family caregiving, explores the growing scope and complexity of family caregiving, and discusses actions needed to be taken to address the financial, social, and emotional challenges of caring for parents, spouses, and other loved ones.
AARP continues to put the spotlight on this important aging policy issue as the graying of the nation’s population continues. According to the group, by 2034, adults aged 65 and older will outnumber children under the age of 18 for the first time ever.
The share of available family caregivers is projected to continue shrinking, relative to the number of older adults who will potentially require long-term care. In addition, family caregivers will continue to face the dual demands of employment and caregiving responsibilities, which often includes bringing up children while taking caring of older parents simultaneously.
“Family caregivers are the backbone of long-term care in this country,” said Susan Reinhard, senior vice president, AARP Public Policy Institute, and a lead author of the report. In a March 8, 2023 statement announcing its release, Reinhard said, “The care they provide is invaluable to those receiving it. But this is not just a family issue: it impacts communities, employers, and our health and long-term care systems. We must treat family caregivers as the valuable resource that they are by providing them the support they need to care for loved ones while also caring for themselves.”
AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group representing over 38 million members, says it plans to push this year to turn the National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers into action that provides meaningful, tangible outcomes and support for family caregivers. The National Strategy, delivered to Congress last September, stemmed from the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which was championed by AARP. The National Strategy highlights nearly 350 actions that the federal government will take and more than 150 that can be adopted by stakeholders and other levels of government to give family caregivers the necessary help they need.
Taking a Closer Look at Home
AARP’s latest report in the Valuing the Invaluable series also provides us data for the Ocean State as to the value of unpaid caregiving provided here. The unpaid care provided by the 121,000 Rhode Island caregivers is valued at $2.1 Billion. This amount was calculated at an $18.95 hourly value to the estimated 113 million hours of unpaid care that family caregivers provided in 2021 – a $300 million increase in unpaid contributions since the last report was released in 2019.
“Family caregivers play a vital role in Rhode Island’s health care system, whether they care for someone at home, coordinate home health care, or help care for someone who lives in a nursing home,” said Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island State Director. “We want to make sure all family caregivers have the financial, emotional and social support they need, because the care they provide is invaluable both to those receiving it and to their community,” she says.
At the Rhode Island State Capitol, AARP Rhode Island says it will continue its fight for assisting family caregivers and the loved ones they care for. During the 2021 Rhode Island General Assembly Session, AARP Rhode Island, along with other aging advocacy groups, successfully lobbied to enhance the Temporary Caregiver Insurance program by increasing the number of weeks a worker can take annually to care for a loved one from 4 to 6 weeks.
During the current legislation session, AARP Rhode Island calls for state lawmakers to support family caregivers who work because caring for a loved one shouldn’t mean losing pay—or even their job. House Bill 5781/Senate Bill 139 will increase the number of weeks that one can take annually to 12. These bills would also expand the definition of family in Rhode Island’s existing paid family leave law to include siblings, grandchildren and other care recipients to fit the reality of Rhode Island’s diverse and multigenerational families.
“Too often our unpaid caregivers are not acknowledged. We need to show the many thousands of unpaid caregivers in Rhode Island we value their contributions with sound policies, programs and laws that support them,” says Maureen Maigret, Policy Advisor for Senior Agenda Coalition of RI.
Maigret also calls for expanding the state Temporary Caregiver Insurance law from six to twelve weeks as most states that have such programs allow, and for including siblings, grandchildren and care recipients – important steps in making Rhode Island a more family-friendly state. “I have personally been a caregiver for a number of family members and know how challenging it can be to navigate our long-term care system,” Maigret says.
“Another important step to support our caregivers is to provide state funding to strengthen The POINT, the state Aging and Disability Resource Center, so that caregivers have a single place they can go to get timely, reliable information and person-centered counseling about the services, supports and benefits available to them as caregivers,” says Maigret. “Too often caregivers are not aware of programs such as subsidized respite and adult day or benefits available to care recipients. That is why the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI is asking the legislature to add $.5 Million to the state budget as The POINT currently receives no state funds and relies entirely on insufficient federal dollars,” she adds.
“It is also important that caregivers be viewed as part of a person’s healthcare team. Healthcare providers, especially those in primary care, need to ask patients if they are getting care from a family member or if they themselves are a caregiver,” says Maigret, noting that this action will provide an opportunity for providers to offer information and guidance about available services and supports.
Resources for Caregivers
“We know that everyone’s path to aging is different and it’s our paid and unpaid caregivers that provide critical supports to our loved ones,” said Office of Healthy Aging Director Maria Cimini. “At the Office of Healthy Aging, we are committed to supporting our caregivers in a variety of ways encouraging self-care through respite programs, informational workshops, and our senior companion volunteer program,” says Cimini. She suggests that family caregivers go to https://oha.ri.gov/resources/oha-resource-center to download OHA’s 2023 Pocket Manual, detailing resources available programs and services that the state agency provides to family caregivers.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s care
“Dementia caregiving is challenging emotionally, physically, and financially. The care that family members provide is priceless, really. We want people to know they are not alone and that the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island chapter has both in person/virtual support groups and community based educational programs for people who are caring for a person living with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia throughout the state,” says Donna McGowan, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter, noting that there are 24 thousand people living with Alzheimer’s in Rhode Island and 39,000 caregivers, many unpaid family members.
“The Alzheimer’s Association believes that understanding how the diagnosis will affect the entire family is truly important to know what resources the family may/will need and how to pay for care must be considered starting right from when a diagnosis is made,” says McGowan.
McGowan says that the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline clinicians guide callers to financial assistance programs that may help pay for respite or a needed break. For details, go to https://www.alz.org/ri
Chris Gadbois, DNP, RN, PHNA-BC, PMH-BC, Chief Executive Officer of the East Providence-based CareLink, says AARP’s report highlights the critical need for support for caregivers in Rhode Island. “At CareLink, we see firsthand the impact on the health and well-being of caregivers and are working hard to provide programs to provide resources. Our Administration on Community Living grant funded program to support individuals with dementia and their care partners is just one example of services that can help people to remain safely in their homes,” she says.
The program, delivered by a trained Occupational Therapist, during five ninety-minute home visits, includes techniques to reduce challenging behaviors, promote functioning, improve caregiver communication, home environment safety, and tips focused on caregiver self-care, including problem solving and teaching stress management techniques. For more details, go to https://carelinkri.org/member-services/therapeutic-services-for-dementia/.
AARP provides a comprehensive listing of resources and information on family caregiving. Go to aarp.org/caregiving.
For a 2023 copy of Valuing the Invaluable, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2023/3/valuing-the-invaluable-2023-update.doi.10.26419-2Fppi.00082.006.pdf.
Resources and information on family caregiving are available at aarp.org/caregiving.