Family caregivers (also known as “carers”) are “relatives, friends, or neighbors who provide assistance related to an underlying physical or mental disability but who are unpaid for those services.” Family caregivers can provide a wide variety of services to care recipients: administering medications and physical therapy, assisting with daily tasks (including personal care, meal planning and preparation, and eating, as well as walking, sitting down and standing up), meeting with healthcare providers, daily supervision and activity (especially when there is a cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease), coordinating treatment regimens and schedules, helping with or managing financial and administrative aspects of medical care, health insurance and more. They can also provide emotional support for coping with disease.
A recent study says that 26.5% of all American adults today are family caregivers. A 2012 report by the Alzheimer’s Association states that 15 million of those family caregivers are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. The value of the voluntary, “unpaid” caregiving service provided by caregivers was estimated at $310 billion in 2006 — almost twice as much as was actually spent on home care and nursing services combined. It’s more than the US government spent on Medicaid, and greater than the Federal budget deficit. By 2009, about 61.6 million caregivers were providing “unpaid” care at a value that had increased to an estimated $450 billion. It is projected that nearly one in five United States citizens will be 65 years of age or older by the year 2030. By 2050 this older population is expected to double in size. Government systems such as Social Security and Medicare were not set up to sustain this projected number of older individuals who will require these services; especially not for as many years as they will be eligible for benefits. Alternatives to these programs will become an increasingly important part of our changing society. Family Caregivers can help bridge this gap.