Caregivers are an exceptional group – and senior caregivers are especially close to my heart. My team hears their stories of love and sacrifice daily. Consider the 80-something parents
caring for their 60-something disabled son, or the blind husband caring for his critically ill wife, or the woman providing round-the-clock care for her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband. These are all real people, and we wanted to know more about their challenges – and how to help.
SCAN Health Plan recently surveyed 1,000 nationally representative U.S. adults, age 65 and older, about their caregiving responsibilities. The aim was to explore the burdens, challenges,
and rewards senior caregivers face. SCAN survey findings align with those of a recent study by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, which found unfavorable
outcomes in physiologic measures, physical and psychiatric health status indicators, and self-reports on health habits as a result of caregiving.
The survey confirmed the primary challenges of senior caregivers to be financial, physical and emotional in nature. According to the results, 47 percent of senior caregivers have had to
tighten their belts financially because of their caregiving responsibilities. Additionally, 34 percent of respondents have had to cut back on their own discretionary spending, one in five has had to
dip into personal savings to provide care and 8 percent have accrued credit card debt to provide care. With many seniors living on a modest or fixed income, the prospect of incurring expenses
or even assuming personal debt to care for another can be daunting.
Of all the impacts caregiving has on one’s life, physical strain is perhaps the most worrisome, with 47 percent of seniors noting they may deprioritize their own health to provide care. Notably,
the physical strain was especially concerning for 54 percent of women compared to 38 percent of men. Even when the job causes overwhelming stress and physical exhaustion, 82 percent of
senior caregivers feel like they just can’t say no. Resources and services that help senior caregivers manage their own health and quality of life can help ensure they remain able to care
for their loved ones.
Emotionally, many caregivers experience an immense amount of guilt from the pressure of always being ready and available to handle the needs and time requirements of their loved one.
Eighty-seven percent of caregiving seniors said they feel guilty about taking a break from their caretaking tasks to make time for themselves. This often results in isolation from family, friends
or community, underscoring the importance of ensuring caregivers are aware of available resources and are encouraged to ask for help.
While we’re glad to see this important topic being addressed on the national level, as evidenced by recent conversations on Capitol Hill, significant opportunities remain. Continued work is
needed to support caregivers so that they can prioritize and maintain their own health, and SCAN along with other organizations, are helping to address current needs. Through our
community programs, for example, SCAN provides a resource and referral line (1-866- 421-1964) to connect caregivers and care recipients to these local services. After all, despite the
challenges they face, 86 percent of senior caregivers say they still find caregiving to be a rewarding experience. By tapping into available programs and resources, caregivers can remain focused on the joy to be found in caregiving.
About the Author
As Senior Vice President of Healthcare Services at SCAN for more than 20 years, Eve Gelb oversees all healthcare services functions including care management, care coordination, quality management and utilization management. Prior to joining SCAN, Gelb worked at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.