What is a family caregiver?
Issues for family caregivers
Family caregivers deserve a lot of support for the difficult “job” they perform and the stress it brings, especially for those still working and juggling conflicting needs and schedules. According to the Caregiver Action Network (CAN), caregiving takes a significant emotional, physical, and financial toll. Nearly half of all caregivers are over age 50, many with their own health vulnerabilities.
Medicare has recognized this issue and now covers respite care as a Medicare benefit for beneficiaries who are on hospice and have six months or less to live. This enables their caregivers to take a much-needed break by hiring a trained care professional for up to five days at a time.
Additionally, studies show that coordinated support services can reduce caregiver depression, anxiety, and stress, and enable them to provide care longer, which avoids or delays the need for costly institutional care. Part of our mission at LiveWell with Traditions is to provide that support through our meal benefit program for health plan members with chronic medical conditions and those in the post-acute discharge period. We find that these medically tailored meals also help individuals avoid emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
U.S. family caregiver statistics
I think the biggest challenge we face in this country from a socioeconomic perspective is how to take care of our aging population. About 10,000 people turn 65 years old every day; that figure used to be 3,000 before the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers, who are two-and-a-half times bigger than other generations. There are not enough resources to take care of our elderly population; that’s why family caregivers often must get involved.
The National Alliance of Caregiving’s 2020 report cites these statistics about unpaid family caregivers:
- Fifty-three million Americans provide unpaid care
- Nearly 20% do so for an adult with health or functional needs
- Twenty-six percent are caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
- Almost one-quarter care for more than one person
- Twenty-three percent report that caregiving has caused their own health to worsen
- Sixty-one percent still work
- Forty-five percent report financial impact due to their caregiving duties
Medically tailored meals – food as medicine
Eating appropriately using the power of nutrition improves the overall quality of our health, especially for people with certain disease states. Dietitians and physicians are collaborating to support people with different disease conditions through appropriate foods, with medically tailored meals that meet specific dietary requirements.
However, among the elderly with chronic health conditions:
- Only 25% have a diet tailored to their disease states’ nutritional requirements.
- The adherence rate to disease-specific diets for diabetes, renal disease, and congestive heart failure skyrockets from 22% to 90% when medically tailored meals are provided.
- This resulted in a 70% reduction in overall healthcare expenditure for this group than if they were not receiving nutritious, medically tailored meals.
- JAMA stated that payors could save $13.6 billion a year net if they provided these meals as a benefit.
- About 1.6 million hospitalizations costing $38.7 billion could have been avoided.
- If these condition-specific meals were provided for 10 years, it would avoid almost 18.3 million hospitalizations and save $484.5 billion in healthcare expenditures.
- It would cost $298.7 billion upfront to implement, but create $185.1 billion in net savings.
Barriers to meal benefit use
- They don’t realize they may have a prepaid debit card available to buy healthy foods. We want all health plans to let caregivers and adult children know about this so they can encourage elders and the chronically ill to use this benefit. Partnering with a provider of home-delivered, ready to eat meals. is the other way insurers can provide critical nutritional support.
- For various reasons, many people don’t take direct action to enroll in Medicare when they become eligible or do not enroll in the plan best suited for their needs. Often, seniors lack a strong support system or the resources and ability to research the various plans and figure it out.
- The American healthcare system is difficult to navigate, given the plethora of care facilities, residences, and rehabilitative services to understand. If someone lacks the means to hire professional assistance or cannot access helpful resources, it can be tough. The websites care.com and caregiving.org are great sources of free advice for family caregivers, especially adult children who must step in to make decisions about finances, health care, and social programs or activities to help their parents stay active and engaged.