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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Monday, January 30, 2017

Supporting Family Caregivers

The most important person when it comes to caring for an elderly family member is the primary caregiver. In many cases, if the primary caregiver becomes unable to continue in that role, the whole system falls apart.

Surveys by both AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving indicate that the most typical family caregiver is a woman just under 50 years old, who is caring for an older relative.  Approximately one-third of primary caregivers have full-time jobs and another 25 percent have part-time jobs.  Most say they provided at least 20 or more hours a week caregiving. And the estimated value of private, family caregiving is approximately $470 billion a year. Most of that is unpaid, and it is roughly the same as the annual spending on Medicaid in the United States.

So not only are caregivers vital, they provide a service for which there is no real funding source should they suddenly become unable to continue.

A recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine indicates that this is a system that needs fixing. The report suggests that the reliance on this largely unpaid workforce is unsustainable. The demand for caregivers is on the rise at an alarming rate. Currently there are approximately seven potential family caregivers for every person over 80. The report projects that due to geographic issues and smaller families, by 2050 there will be less than three potential caregivers for every older person in the U.S.

None of that takes into account the emotional and physical toll for family caregiving. There are countless studies showing the potential negative health effects on family caregivers.

While there’s little that can be done for the numbers issue, there are ways to help the family caregiver, not the least of which are respite care, counseling and other support services. Caregivers need to speak out to other family members and friends about their need for help, and hospitals and local support organizations need to be more aggressive in their support of family caregivers. To not do something further endangers this already fragile system.

In fact, one U.S. legislator, Rep. Barbara Lee of California, recently filed legislation to amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide tax credits for household and elder care services necessary for gainful employment (H.R.329 - 115th Congress (2017-2018)). The proposed legislation was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. It will be interesting to follow its progress.


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