By Mary Bethel, Associate State Director for Advocacy, AARP North Carolina

Family members provide 80% of the assistance to their relatives who are in need of care. They are literally the backbone of our state’s long-term care system.Steve's downtown photos_7 (2)

Studies vary in estimating the number of family caregivers in North Carolina caring for older and disabled family members. Regardless of the data source, it is apparent that a large percentage of our state’s citizens are unpaid family caregivers.

  • According to AARP, over 1.7 million adult North Carolinians are caring for a family member.
  • 2011 data from the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics reports that one in five individuals surveyed reported that they provided care and/or assistance to a friend or family member within the past month. Of those surveyed, 79% reported that the care recipient was aged 50 and older.

 

The care provided by family caregivers can encompass a broad range of tasks. It can range from providing transportation to the grocery store, to assisting with basic daily activities, to providing round-the-clock health care.

In most cases, care provided by family members is uncompensated.  Estimates of the value of uncompensated care are staggering. For example, the publication Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures – 2012, projects that 431,075 North Carolina caregivers provide 490,908,515 hours of unpaid care to family members with dementia at a value of $5.95 billion.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, older adults receive more and more family care as disability increases.  86% of older adults at greatest risk of nursing home placement live with others and receive an average of 60 hours of unpaid care per week, supplemented by a little over 14 hours of assistance from paid helpers.

Although family caregiving can have many rewards, it can take a toll on the care providers.  Studies show that caregivers report chronic health problems at nearly twice the rate of non-caregivers and over half of caregivers report they don’t have enough time for their family.

Nationally and in North Carolina, over half of caregivers work while providing care which can present significant challenges to the worker.  Many caregivers reduce or end employment to fulfill demands of caregiving.

With increased demands on public resources that help family caregivers, families are being asked to play a larger role in helping their older and disabled family members.  If families are to continue this critical function, they need to be supported in their efforts.

AARP North Carolina and other aging advocacy groups continue to push for policies that promote family-centered care. In addition, there is significant advocacy for greater funding for programs that provide services to help keep older adults in their homes such as the Home and Community Care Block Grant.   This Block Grant funds programs such as home delivered meals, in-home aide services, and respite care for family caregivers.

Neither the House or the Senate have proposed additional funding for the Block Grant and the Senate budget plan even includes a proposal to reduce the Block Grant by $970,000. Let us hope that the General Assembly will take the needs of older adults and their family caregivers into consideration as they come to agreement on the final budget plan for the next year.