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HealthConnections - Caregiving


Unpaid caregivers are often family members and friends who provide long term, community-based care to older adults and people with chronic health conditions and disabilities. On this week’s episode of HealthConnection, Dr. Carole Myers, a professor emeritus in the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, speaks with Edward Harper, a licensed clinical social worker and the former coordinator of senior services at Blount Memorial Hospital, on providing support for caregivers.

WUOT’s Carole Myers: What factors are contributing to the increase in unpaid caregivers? What’s going on there?

Edward Harper: This is something that is no surprise really because we’ve been tracking the birth rate since 1947 and up and we’ve had quite an impressive population density which has aged. For the past ten years, we’ve had about 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 a day. So, if that was 10 years ago, that first wave is 75.

So, let’s explore that a little bit more. We’re talking about unpaid family and friend caregivers and most households I know have two income earners and we are certainly hearing a lot about increased costs. What are the financial implications at the household level of being a family caregiver or a friend caregiver?

It’s been my experience over the past 30 years that if you were to use private care and let’s say that it’s at a school nursing level and it ran about $120,000 a year out of pocket or government service, then the people who no longer fit for Medicaid or couldn’t afford that, they out of their own time, energy and sacrifice of life spent the equivalent in time and energy of $120,000 a year. You say, well I didn’t make $120,000, but you gave the services and provided services through either becoming very familiar with agencies, how to get things done, and all that energy would be the equivalent of 120,000. I’m not really sure if that gets to the meat, but whether you are fortunate enough to have that money for at least a while or you don’t, you still have the same expenditures.

I guess when we talk about all this what is most important for my mind is, how can we support unpaid caregivers and what recommendations do you have to ease the burdens that folks face when they are providing unpaid care?

I am going to try to keep this succinct, but there is an impact that is intangible and that is on time, emotion and money. The caregiver cannot be in two places, physically, at the same time. They cannot be in two places at the same time, so it is very hard when you’re taking care of a mother and there’s a lot of demand on emotion and mood and then try to go home and have a marriage or partnership. Now, to support the caregiver then we as adults need to be thinking about powers of attorney and that’s something that needs to start at age 18. It’s not an old person’s document. The next thing I would say, look to your national or regional organizations such as: the National Caregivers Association, the Parkinson’s Association, the Alzheimer's Association, the Alzheimer’s Tennessee Association Stroke Support. Those national organizations have deep roots and they have resources and that’s what caregivers need, initially, is resources and when they feel like they are doing a better job, they are going to feel better about themselves and maybe they can find a little bit of respite in their day. At AARP, caregiving is a national initiative for them. So those organizations, such as AARP and those who have national standing/international standing, they’re going to have a lot of publications out. The one place that you might find some help and is often immediate and more affordable is the Adult Day Services. It provides a safe place that you can feel, if I were the person you were placing there, you knew where I was, you knew that I had professionals and if anything were to go sideways then you could be contacted, but you could also go do your job.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content.

Greg joined WUOT in 2007, first as operations director and now as assistant director/director of programming. His duties range from analyzing audience data to helping clear WUOT’s satellite dish of snow and ice. Greg started in public radio in 2000 in Shreveport, La., at Red River Radio and was, prior to coming WUOT, at WYSO in Dayton, Ohio, where he also was director of programming and operations.