By Michelle Seitzer
Today, 17.7 million Americans—that's 7.7 percent of the population— are family caregivers, says the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's new report, Families Caring for an Aging America.
Increasing longevity and a changing population demographics translates to a larger number of caregivers. Change must follow: a different societal view of family caregivers and their roles; an improved support system shaped by innovative technology trends; and the impact these individuals have on the workplace, on healthcare, and beyond.
A national family caregiver strategy is thus one of the report's key recommendations, but the tremendous variation among caregivers' circumstances makes a one-size-fits-all policy a challenge. As such, the Academies partnered with 15 sponsors to generate the report, and convened a committee of family caregiving experts to create relevant policy recommendations.
What It Says
Within the report's pages you'll find data on the types of care being provided (i.e. some caregivers are providing intense, daily, hands-on support for individuals with cognitive impairments/physical disabilities, while others may be supporting an individual from a distance with finances or health care decisions), the duration of time this care is being given, why the population of family caregivers is shrinking at a time of critical need, and other related demographics.
Families Caring for an Aging America is also about preparedness, about the importance of self-care and the physical and emotional health risks family caregivers face, and about navigating the complex long-term care systems currently in place.
Several of the key recommendations put forth by the aforementioned committee (review the full document here) are:
- Recognizing the culturally and ethnically diverse population of family caregivers as adaptations are made to the current health care and long-term services support (LTSS) systems and workplaces.
- Examining programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure the identification of caregivers and the best ways to address their needs.
- Implementing federal policies offering financial support for working caregivers.
- Collecting more data on family caregivers' experiences and tracking, monitoring, and reporting such data more intentionally.
- Establishing more public-private partnerships to accelerate research and development of supportive technology and other caregiver-centric philanthropic endeavors.
Why It Matters
If you're currently a caregiver or have been one in recent years, you already know the demands of caregiving. You know help is appreciated and support is vital, and our current system must expand to do more for caregivers and older adults. You also know how hard it is to access available resources while in the daily caregiving trenches.
Still there's no time like the present to do better: as more people age and need care for a longer period, as more caregivers burn out and compromise their own health, and as technology is already out there (and in the pipeline) to improve the lives of caregivers and older adults.
It's exciting to see family caregiving taking its rightful place on the national stage.
Spread the word and raise awareness of this report on social media via this hashtag: #NASEMcaregiving, and follow updates on Twitter: @theNASEM.
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