More people are living longer than ever before. There are 901 million people worldwide who are older than 60 and, by 2050, the number is expected to increase to 2.1 billion. (Source) This massive jump is due largely to medicine’s many successes over the past generations, such as reducing the impact of once-deadly diseases like the flu. But with this success comes many challenges. More people than ever are living long enough to develop non-communicable diseases and chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s or cancer – in fact, it’s common for older adults to be living with two or more chronic conditions. Though seniors are living longer, they aren’t necessarily living healthier or more easily.
To ease this burden, seniors often get help from unpaid caregivers, like family members. In the U.S. alone, there are over 40 million unpaid caregivers assisting adults above the age of 65. Most of this 40 million provide help to one aging adult, 22% provide help to two and 7% provide help to three or more. (Source) As part of being caregivers, these 40 million are typically in charge of arranging medical care and social services, communicating with insurance companies, offering transportation, and helping with daily personal and household tasks.
But this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily trained or qualified to do these. A national representative survey of family caregivers found “that 46 percent of all family caregivers were managing medications, doing wound care, operating machinery, or performing other tasks—often with little or no training or support.” And today, caregivers are “expected to provide complex technical care that even ten or fifteen years ago would have been considered skilled nursing care.” (Source)
It can be costly to be a family caregiver. In a 2015 report, “Family Caregiving: 20 Years of Federal Policy” it was noted in 2007 that caregivers caring for people over 50 spent an average of $5,500 of their own money towards caregiving expenses and lost close to $300,000 ($283,716 for male caregivers and $324,044 for female caregivers) in personal income, Social Security, and pensions benefits. “Many are also juggling their own jobs with their caregiving responsibilities. Six-in-ten (61%) caregivers are employed, including nearly half who work full-time.” (Source)
Family caregiving also often takes a toll on the caregiver’s health. One study found that caregiving for 14 hours or more weekly for two or more years doubled the risk of cardiovascular disease onset and significantly increased the risk of developing high blood pressure compared to other similar adults who were not caregivers. Another study found that the chronic stress spouses and adult children experience while caring for Alzheimer’s disease patients may shorten the caregivers’ lives by as much as four to eight years. (Source)
Skylar is creating a health management suite for both seniors and their care providers because we recognize the major role people like family caregivers play in the health outcomes of the seniors and that they need a solution that makes caregiving less costly. In order to do this, we talked with family caregivers like Priya Patel.