Nov 2 2011
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November is National Family Caregivers Month

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More than 65 million people in this country provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or older family member or friend, according to the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). Caregivers play an important role in the health care system, serving as patient advocates and aiding medical professionals in providing high-quality care outside of the hospital.

AARP’s Public Policy Institute, The Commonwealth Fund and The SCAN Foundation last month released a report showing each state’s performance in the delivery of long-term services and supports to older adults and people with disabilities. It includes a scorecard that looks at how each state supports family caregivers and patients. While it finds “substantial” variation from state to state, those with the highest levels of performance “have enacted public policies designed to… address the needs of family caregivers by offering legal protections as well as the support and services that can help prevent burnout.”

Those kinds of supports can make a huge difference for family caregivers, experts say, because many struggle to balance their own care with that of their loved one. Nearly one in four caregivers cut back on spending for their own health or dental care to help with the expenses associated with caring for a relative or friend. Caregivers report using their savings or cutting back on basic home maintenance to pay for a loved one’s care. In fact, in 2007, family members caring for someone age 50 or older reported spending an average of $5,531 out of their own pockets.

It’s not surprising, then, that a survey released last week by NFCA finds family caregivers are concerned with taking care of their personal health, lack of respite care, and meeting financial needs.

“Many family caregivers take on a significant and sustained burden of care," NFCA President and CEO Suzanne Mintz said in a statement. "This survey confirms that. More than one-half of the respondents have been in their caregiving role for five years or longer, one-third care for more than one person, and they assist with more daily activities than a typical family caregiver."

In recognition of their dedication and efforts, the month of November has been designated as “National Family Caregivers Month.” Throughout the month, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital blog will feature posts by RWJF scholars who are conducting research relevant to caregivers, and by RWJF staff and other experts with important stories and perspectives. We invite you to join the conversation. Register below to leave a comment on this or other posts.

Tags: Caregiving, Health & Health Care Policy, Medical, Nursing & Dental Workforce