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A Public Health Priority

Asian Women smilingThe health of caregivers is at risk.

Informal or unpaid caregivers (family members or friends) are the backbone of long-term care provided in people’s homes. While some aspects of caregiving may be rewarding, caregivers can also be at increased risk for negative health consequences. These may include stress, depression, difficulty maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and staying up to date on recommended clinical preventive services.

Who are caregivers?

Caregivers provide care to people who need some degree of ongoing assistance with everyday tasks on a regular or daily basis. The recipients of care can live either in residential or institutional settings, range from children to older adults, and have chronic illnesses or disabling conditions.

Approximately 25% of U.S. adults 18 years of age and older reported providing care or assistance to a person with a long-term illness or disability in the past 30 days, according to 2009 data from CDC's state-based Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  This is termed "informal or unpaid care" because it is provided by family or friends rather than by paid caregivers. The one year value of this unpaid caregiver activity was estimated as $450 million dollars in 2009.

What is the impact of providing care for an older adult?

Informal or unpaid caregiving has been associated with:

  • Elevated levels of depression and anxiety
  • Higher use of psychoactive medications
  • Worse self-reported physical health
  • Compromised immune function
  • Increased risk of early death

Over half (53%) of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care.

Furthermore, caregivers and their families often experience economic hardships through lost wages and additional medical expenses. In 2009, more than one in four (27%) of caregivers of adults reported a moderate to high degree of financial hardship as a result of caregiving.

What are the positive aspects of caregiving?

For many people, providing care for a family member with a chronic illness or a disabling condition can provide:

  • A sense of fulfillment
  • Establishment of extended social networks or friendship groups associated with caregiving
  • Feeling needed and useful
  • Learning something about one’s self, others, and the meaning of life

More caregivers will be needed

As the number of older Americans increases, so will the number of caregivers needed to provide care. The number of people 65 years old and older is expected to double between 2000 and 2030. It is expected that there will be 71 million people aged 65 years old and older when all baby boomers are at least 65 years old in 2030.

Currently, there are 7 potential family caregivers per adult. By 2030, there will be only 4 potential family caregivers per adult.

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