Compared to caregivers in the rest of the United States, those in California have higher levels of stress and poorer health.
To many of us who work with family caregivers in multiple states, those facts seemed obvious, but we now have data to support our beliefs.
According to the 2011 UCLA policy brief “ Stressed and Strapped: Caregivers in California,” baby boomer caregivers are at the greatest risk for stress induced illness.
There are 2.6 million boomer caregivers between the ages of 45 and 64 in our state.
According to the study, compared with older caregivers and non-caregivers of the same age, boomer caregivers are more likely to binge drink, smoke or be overweight. The majority have poor health behaviors because of the stress they are experiencing.
But why are California caregivers more stressed than caregivers in other states?
For reasons that include the demographic makeup of caregivers and the lack of a strong support system in our state, California caregivers experience a tougher time than most as they endeavor to care for another person.
Following are some of the facts the study revealed about California caregivers.
More California caregivers juggle work and caregiving. More than two-thirds of boomer caregivers have full- or part-time jobs. Caring for a loved one with health emergencies, care challenges and frequent medical appointments can make it extra stressful when these activities compete with work responsibilities.
More California caregivers don’t have help. Thirty percent of caregivers are single, divorced or widowed. This means that California has a lot of people who are carrying the burden of caregiving without someone to lean on.
More California caregivers spend longer hours caring for another. According to the study, caregivers living with the person they’re caring for spend an average of 36 hours a week giving help. For one-third of caregivers, caring for a loved one is a full-time job.
More California caregivers are under financial stress. Ninety percent of family caregivers are not paid for the care they provide, and many spend their own money caring for a loved one. Nearly one-quarter of all caregivers are in the low-income bracket. And often caregivers are forced to reduce their work hours, change their work responsibilities or quit their job to care for a loved one.
The mental health of California caregivers is declining. More than 1 million California caregivers report moderate or serious stress levels, with almost one-third reporting that their emotions interfere with their social lives or daily activities.
California doesn’t have a strong support system for caregivers. Often we hear of caregivers who are unable to take a break from the duties of caregiving. While grants are available for family caregivers to receive brief respite care, the waiting list is long and funding is limited.
The problem is getting worse. Boomer caregivers who are stressed and experiencing poor health will in 20 or 30 years become older seniors themselves, bringing their poor health conditions along with them.
Rosalyn Carter said it best: “There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
We need to find ways to care for those who are doing the caregiving, providing support mechanisms in the workplace, in our communities and within our own families. The health and well-being of our senior population depends on it.