When his mom had a stroke, Wesley Tong returned to Hawai`i from Tokyo, where he was teaching college and high school English, to become her full-time caregiver.
“It’s tough to be a caregiver and work at the same time,” Tong said. Caregiving is also expensive. The family went into debt to pay for an assisted living facility so Tong could return to Tokyo to close out his life there before moving in with his mother.
Tong is just one of an estimated 38 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. According to AARP’s recent Valuing the Invaluable Report, family caregivers provide an estimated 36 billion hours of care annually for parents, spouses, partners and friends with chronic, disabling and serious health conditions. If they were paid hourly for their work, the value of their care is estimated to be $600 billion.
What caregivers do, they do at great emotional and financial cost. They sacrifice income, job security and their savings. Plus, many family caregivers cut back on their work hours and even leave the workforce to take care of loved ones, putting their career advancement and retirement savings at risk.
More than three out of every four family caregivers pay out of pocket for care-related expenses like equipment, transportation and home modifications. It adds up fast.
On average, family caregivers spend 26 percent of their income on caregiving activities.
At the same time, they are saving taxpayer money by allowing loved ones to remain at home, where they want to live, instead of in more expensive and often taxpayer-supported nursing facilities.
Family caregivers are the backbone of our fractured long-term care system in America. The stress on family caregivers and our system of long-term care will continue to increase as the population gets older and there are fewer younger family members or friends to provide care.
It’s time to do more to support caregivers, who have done so much for others.
This year on Capitol Hill and state houses across the nation, AARP is continuing to fight to:
- Make providing care easier, including through expansion of resource navigation tools, caregiver training and inclusion in care, as well as through increased access to paid care at home and other supports.
- Alleviate the financial and other challenges faced by many family caregivers that can undermine their own well-being, including better access to respite care, paid leave and financial relief such as through family caregiver tax credits and reimbursement programs.
- Improve the health and well-being of family caregivers, many of whom have seen their own personal situations worsen, including through needs assessments and other tools.
When Tong lived in Tokyo, he noticed that the government seemed to do more to help older residents. Older people weren’t afraid that they couldn’t afford health care and the government-provided transportation services for people who had mobility issues.
Since he’s been back in the U.S., Tong’s had trouble accessing government services for family caregivers, and he worries about his family’s ability to pay for the care his mother needs. The good news is that his mother seems to be improving and no longer requires 24/7 care. But she still needs someone to watch out for her. He worries about his own health and is trying to take better care of himself and his mother.
Being a family caregiver isn’t easy. It’s an act of love. It shouldn’t be something caregivers have to do alone.
Craig Gima is the communications director for AARP Hawai`i.