Caregiving: America’s Other National Pastime

Katelyn Battaglia

Held in November during National Family Caregivers Month, CAN’s event featured the theme, “Creating the Voice,” which hit home for the evening’s two honorees.

Caregiving can be a significant burden on families’ emotions, finances and resources, particularly as America’s population continues to age. This was the focus of a recent event hosted by the Caregiver Action Network (CAN), a nonprofit organization that provides education, peer support, and resources for family caregivers in the United States. The event held a special significance for Signal Group as Signal EVP Michelle Baker is a CAN Board Member and we were honored to help sponsor the event.

Family caregiving is defined as an unpaid individual assisting with daily activities and providing direct care for another person. There are more than 90 million Americans who currently care for family members with special needs such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, disabilities, and other chronic conditions. It’s become such a critical issue that Congress recently provided $300,000 to establish the first Family Caregiving Advisory Council.

Held in November during National Family Caregivers Month, CAN’s event featured the theme, “Creating the Voice,” which hit home for the evening’s two honorees. CAN’s CEO, John Schall, presented “Hands-on Help” awards to Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman for the Washington Nationals, and George Will, Pulitzer prize-winning author, political commentator and baseball fan, for their work to support family caregiving. Zimmerman’s mother was diagnosed with MS when he was 11 and George’s son, John, was born with Down Syndrome. Both are dedicated to baseball and to caring for their family members with needs – two of America’s “national pastimes.”

The growing role of family caregiving takes a toll on individuals, the economy and society at large. As detailed in the 2016 book, Families Caring for an Aging America, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the value of unpaid family caregiving amounted to $234 billion in 2011. In terms of healthcare alone, caregivers cost employers 8 percent more than non-caregivers, a figure estimated to be worth $13.4 billion per year. This can include costs such as:

  • Employees who quit due to caregiving responsibilities and high employee turnover
  • Missed workdays or interruptions during the workweek
  • Administrative time that managers spend working or communicating with employees who are caregivers

What’s more, as our populations continues to age, this means that people are living with two, three or more ailments that may require special care. In decades past, as George Will noted, such ailments would have led to an earlier death rather than people living longer with the chronic conditions or disabilities.

The CBO also projects that spending on long-term care as a percentage of the GDP could more than double by 2050. This becomes even more concerning when the number of people living with Alzheimer’s-related dementia in the U.S. is expected to grow from 5.5 million today to 11.6 million by 2040, according to the 2017 RAND Corporation study, “Assessing the Preparedness of the U.S. Health Care System Infrastructure for an Alzheimer’s Treatment.”

Family and friends must increasingly prepare for the possibility of becoming a caregiver for a loved one. It will also be critical for business, organizations, and advocates to draw greater attention to the needs of family caregivers and craft legislation and workplace guidelines that support this important responsibility.