A new report from the AARP assigned an economic value to family caregivers in the U.S. The study estimated their unpaid contributions to be approximately 450 billion dollars a year.
But there is no way to quantify the physical and emotional costs of their care. The burden of caregivers can apparently be so stressful at times it can cost them their lives.
Bonnie Dominguez became family caregiver in 2006 when she got “that dreaded phone call at work.” Her eldest son was injured in Iraq.
He survived an IED blast, but was burned on 85 percent of his body. Dominguez and her youngest daughter Maline had to move to Texas for a year to care for him while he recovered in an army hospital.
“The year after that, I came home and I encountered a different kind of situation here,” said Dominguez. “The caregiving continued, just in a different way.”
Dominguez sits at the dining table in her Lehigh Acres home beside her 81-year-old mom, Marie Bem. It’s her day off from work, but it hardly feels like a day off.
She takes away the half-eaten plate of food when her mom signals she’s done.
“Mom always said, ‘I don’t care if I have a heart attack and die, I don’t care if I have this, I just don’t want to get Alzheimer’s.’ And that’s the one thing she got blessed with,” said Dominguez.
When Bem was diagnosed in 2007, Dominguez became her full-time caregiver. The single mom juggles her job at the local airport, running the house, and caring for her mother.
She is one of the 62 million Americans each year caring for a family member. While their work is unpaid, it does come at a price – not to their loved ones or the health care system, but to the caregivers themselves.
Gary Barg is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Caregiver based in Fort Lauderdale.
“The most frightening statistic is, according to Stanford University, 40% of caregivers dealing with cognitive disorders in their loved ones will die before their loved ones do –solely due to the stress of family caregiving,” said Barg.
He was inspired to start the magazine after an experience helping his mom care for his grandparents.
“And those were the most intense, painful, life-and-death experiences, around-the-clock, never-sleeping two weeks that I lived as a helper to a family caregiver.”
Studies show that caring for an ill family member or friend can be harmful to the person’s own health. The job is stressful and it takes a mental, physical, and emotional toll.
Bonnie Dominguez says she knows that very well.
“Sometimes I would just start crying, I was at my wits end,” she said.
Mae Greenberg is a mental health counselor based in Miami who runs a caregiver support group.
“As much as somebody really loves the person that is ill, just the constant demands can bring them to the point of exhaustion,” she said.
“There is that grieving of the loss for what their life was before their time was filled with all of that.”
A lack of support is not only detrimental for caregivers, but also the country.
The AARP report finds family caregivers to be vital for the health care system and the economy. The value of their work is approaching the amount the government spends on Medicare.
Without them, the economic costs of health care would skyrocket.
“So it’s very important that these caregivers have an outlet so they can continue to care for their loved one, “ said Nancy Green-Irwin, executive director for Senior Friendship Centers of Lee County.
Senior Friendship Centers provides services to seniors and caregivers alike. The AARP report calls for more resources for caregivers to lessen the strain of the job.
Before heading to work, Bonnie Dominguez drops her mother Marie off at the Centers’ adult day care.
It gives her peace of mind that her mom will be safe and around other people while she’s at her job. It also removes some of the pressure.
“It’s hard sometimes, [but] we make it work,” said Dominguez.
“I have to be there—which is OK. When I was little she had to be there for me.”
Dominguez worries about herself, but said it’s tough not to worry about others first. She relieves some her stress by getting a massage from her chiropractor and playing scrabble on the phone with a friend.
Dominguez said she’s glad to spend time with her mom, but is thankful for the resources that give her respite.
Thursday, 25 August 2011 09:55
The Emotional Cost of CaregivingWritten by Farah Dosani