The Growing Demands Placed on Family Caregivers

In the United States, more than 65 million people provide care for a loved one during any given year[1].  A growing number of these individuals are considered “higher-burden” family caregivers – those responsible for a wide range of activities for their loved one’s care over a prolonged period of time.
During National Family Caregivers Month, a new survey puts the spotlight on this emerging group of caregivers and their unique challenges.[2] Arkansas caregivers were among those surveyed as part of a project focused on those caring for Medicare beneficiaries with complex health care needs.
The survey results underscore some of the numerous challenges “higher-burden” family caregivers face:

  • Financial issues are a top concern. More than half are providing financial support to their loved ones and 75 percent have incomes of less than $25,000.
  • Significant care responsibilities. Unlike their predecessors, these caregivers take on more activities of daily living for their loved ones. Managing medications and coordinating care is layered on top of traditional support such as shopping and managing finances.
  • Some conditions drive a higher need for support. Of the 70 percent caring for a loved one with diabetes, one in three indicated that it was the main reason for providing care and support.

Survey respondents said additional education and training about managing chronic illnesses is one way to offer much-needed support. Guidance for communicating effectively with their loved one’s care team is another shared need.
Fortunately for these caregivers, new care models hold promise for easing care coordination duties and support with daily activities. Providing annual and post-hospital “house call” visits in the home is one way some health plans and health providers are stepping up support for caregivers in Arkansas. Such programs can help address health concerns and symptoms in the setting where they are needed, and help facilitate follow-up care needs directly with primary care providers. 
As rates of chronic illnesses increase among a rapidly growing Medicare population in Arkansas, communities must continue to work together to identify ways to support these caregivers.  Their role is evolving, and more critical than ever.

[1] Caregiving in the United States; AARP, National Alliance for Caregiving; November 2009 [2] A Picture of Higher Burden Caregiving; Care Improvement Plus, National Family Caregivers Association, November, 2012
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