Yesterday AARP published the results of its caregiver survey, a study of how families and individuals cope with providing care to their elderly relatives. The survey results were astonishing: Forty percent of New Yorkers over 50 report working as an unpaid caregiver to a sick or elderly relative. Nearly 70 percent of those do it without the aid of a home nurse or care worker.
Statewide, over 4 million people are unpaid caregivers for ill, frail, or elderly relatives. The expense of that unpaid care adds up to $32 billion a year, even though the state only allocates $3 million.
AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel says that due to inadequate funding, many family caregivers endure unnecessary economic hardship from having to balance caregiving and holding down an outside job.
“We know that 15 percent [of those who identifying themselves as caregivers] have been treated unfairly in the workplace because of their caregiving responsibilities.”
Once the economic burden of caring for a loved one becomes too great, the elderly or sick relative often winds up in a medical institution, taxing the Medicaid system when smarter funding choices could keep those needing care at home with their families and communities.
“If we can keep people in place longer, it’s a great savings to the state. But more importantly, it lets people age in place and with dignity,” explains Finkel, noting that nine out of 10 Americans want to stay at home as they age.
The data paint a bleak picture for the cost of home caregiving into the future. In a separate analysis, AARP found that there were 6.6 potential caregivers (people between 45 and 65, those most likely to find themselves caring for relatives) to every one person over 80. By 2030, that number will shrink to 4.8 potential caregivers per one needing care. By 2050, the number is expected to be 3.5.
With the mayoral election rapidly approaching, the report’s release is meant to ensure that home caregiving is an agenda item for the mayoral candidates, and that it is at the forefront of the minds of those who provide home care for a relative. About 80 percent of survey respondents are looking for more robust caregiving support from the city and state.
“That’s why the push is right now,” says Finkel. “We need to know now how that mayor will addresses the issues of family caregivers.”
The AARP plans to roll out a policy blueprint for New York as a launching pad for legal reform in a state that comes in 48th place in the country for the quality and comprehensiveness of caregiver support systems. The blueprint is due out within a month.