Report: unpaid caregivers neglect their own health

(Photo Supplied/Indiana News Service)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WOWO): The number of Indiana residents age 85 and older is expected to grow by 48 percent by 2030, and many will need help from friends and family. According to a new study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these unpaid caregivers are about twice as likely to experience physical, financial and emotional difficulties as individuals who don’t have the same responsibilities.

Jennifer Wolff, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said those who are focused on others are more likely to ignore their own issues. She said the research highlights the need for support for unpaid caregivers – including acknowledging that they often help with health care.

“If the electronic health record had a structured field to record the name of a family member so that health professionals knew who else was helping a patient,” she said, “they could be better integrated as part of a care team; providing them with more information about the patient’s care plan, about the medications they’re taking.”

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, the majority of caregivers in the United States are responsible for one adult, but 15 percent take care of two, and 3 percent are in charge of three people at a time.

Wolff said caregivers usually are untrained in medical issues and unsure where to get help. She said family and friends who take care of others also go without psychological support or don’t have time to get health care for themselves. Unpaid caregivers can suffer financially, too, she said, and that needs to be recognized.

“If families were to walk away,” she said, “there’s no way the system could afford to step in and provide all the assistance that they are doing uncompensated.”

Wolff said a few states have family-leave programs that allow people to collect part of their salary while caring for relatives with medical issues. In her view, there should be more of them.

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