Why supporting the health of caregivers matters to public health
By Dr. Elizabeth Malko
April 13, 2023
By 2030, all Baby Boomers will have reached age 65, putting the over-65 population at 71 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. As the number of older adults grows, so will the need for more family caregivers.
But unlike recent decades, when there were seven potential family caregivers per adult, by 2030, this number will drop to four. With a growing need for family caregivers, plus a dwindling supply of people to take on these roles, the stage is set for a caregiver health crisis.
Caregiver health is a bourgeoning issue for the health care industry. And as so many caregivers are still in the workforce, often taking care of children as well, addressing caregiver mental well-being is also an important business imperative for companies.
Caregivers face unique health risks — higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress — which increase their odds of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. About one in 10 caregivers report their physical health got worse after they began caregiving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caregivers also often wind up feeling burnt out and struggle with feelings of guilt when they do things for themselves instead of the person they are caring for. About 60 percent of caregivers say their eating and exercise habits are worse than they were before they began caregiving.
While I was a medical student, I took on the role of caregiver for my father, who struggled with many chronic illnesses. During the eight years my dad lived with us, my son was born and I graduated from medical school, completed my residency, and started my medical practice. Although I was fortunate in not having to struggle with mental health issues at the time, caregiving is a delicate balancing act. It’s not easy for anyone.
There are many positives to caregiving — taking care of a family member who needs you feels good. And it can be beneficial for the person being cared for to have these interactions with someone they love. That’s why, as a health care industry, our focus should be on removing the burdens caregivers face. What caregivers need more than anything is time to take care of themselves and support juggling the many responsibilities they have, such as work, child care and more. Many caregivers put off their own health care and don’t seek mental health support when they need it, often because they lack the time to do so.
Caregivers often have to use their personal time off at work for caregiving responsibilities, and their added responsibilities at home make it more difficult to climb the ladder at work. This especially applies to caregivers of children with special needs who may be caring for their child for the rest of their lives. Not to mention, caregiving often comes with a financial burden, as some caregivers may have to stop working entirely.
At Florida Blue and Florida Blue Medicare, we are committed to supporting the whole-person health of caregivers of all ages, and we believe that there is no health without mental health. We have many programs to make it easier for our members and their caregivers to get the care and support they need to feel their best. At Florida Blue Medicare, we use our annual health risk assessment (a survey we give to members) to help determine what social determinants of health may be affecting our members so we can provide them with personalized resources and care that helps meet their needs.
Here are some additional benefits and tools we offer to caregivers and their families:
Caregivers can visit our FloridaBlue.com/Caregiver page to get the forms needed to manage someone else’s health care, as well as tools to support them in caregiving.
All our members have access to meQuilibrium’s digital well-being platform. meQuilibrium delivers clinically validated and highly personalized resilience solutions to help people improve their ability to manage stress, and successfully cope with life’s challenges.
At our Florida Blue Centers, our community specialists can help connect members and non-members to helpful resources in their communities, such as rental assistance, food programs, transportation services, financial support and help finding a doctor. Visit your local center or call 877-352-5830 to speak to a care nurse or community specialist. Learn more at FloridaBlue.com/Center.
Florida Blue Medicare members and their caregivers can get extra support through MyCareDeskTM from Carallel. Included with all Florida Blue Medicare Advantage plans. Log in to MyCareDesk at FloridaBlueMedicare.MyCareDesk.com. 1-855-955-3010 (TTY: 711) (Caregivers need help, too (floridablue.com)
Some plans include transportation benefits, meal-planning benefits, and over-the-counter medication benefits (for non-prescription medications like Tylenol and more), which can help families save money.
Florida Blue works with Emcara Health to provide in-home care to members, reducing the burden some caregivers may face to get their loved one to a doctor’s visit.
Most of our Medicare Advantage plans include Papa as a benefit. Papa connects older adults to “Papa Pals” who can provide companionship, help with chores around the house, and transportation to our members.
Overall, as a health care industry, we need to make sure we ensure caregivers get the support they need. And businesses should care for those employees who hold the dual roles of employee and caregiver. Caregivers serve a key role in our society that will only grow in importance as our population ages. Without caregivers, many older adults as well as children and adults with disabilities, could face a crisis of care.