As the economic impact of unpaid family caregivers increases in the United States, an in-home provider serving the Greater Grand Rapids area is looking to reduce the burden and stress of providing care to family members.
Homewatch CareGivers, headquartered at 500 Cascade West Parkway in Grand Rapids, was established in 2004 and provides companion, personal and comprehensive care services to people of all ages.
Owner Jeff Swain said the organization’s mission and services are focused on helping elderly people remain at home, feeling comfortable and respected.
“It is a matter of being a support system and making them feel like they have a personal assistant at home. We are there to reduce burden and stress and give a little peace of mind to adult children of seniors,” said Swain.
“The adult children often feel torn about their elderly parents living alone at home. They want to give them the independence as long as possible, but they don’t want to worry about falling or meal selection.”
In 2011, the AARP Public Policy Institute released an update on the growing contributions and costs of family caregiving, indicating roughly 42.1 million people in the United States during 2009 provided care to “an adult with limitations in daily activities at any given point in time,” and more than 61 million family caregivers provided care at some point during the year.
The value of the 2009 unpaid caregiving was estimated at approximately $450 billion, which was more than total Medicaid spending that year for both federal and state contributions, and an increase from $375 billion in 2007, according to the AARP report.
With so many adults involved in helping their parents remain in their home, Swain said it often results in loss of productivity and wages due to those caregiving responsibilities.
“Lost productivity occurs because of the caregivers who are pulled away from work either for days at a time or an afternoon, and oftentimes they have to leave their job,” said Swain. “The financial cost of this, in addition to the cost to family well-being, can be very high.”
Businesses in the U.S. lose up to an average of $33.6 billion per year due to lost productivity from full-time caregiving employees, according to a 2006 MetLife Mature Market Institute and National Alliance for Caregiving study. While the average annual cost to employers per full-time employed caregiver is more than $2,000, the estimated lifetime income-related losses for caregivers who must leave the workforce to care for a parent is more than $115,000 in wages and roughly $137,000 in Social Security benefits.
The burden on unpaid family caregivers may impact not only their wages, productivity and employment, but also their health, according to Swain.
“One study said up to 75 percent of family caregivers have developed some affliction of their own. Sometimes depression can set in because of the stresses of family caregiving,” said Swain.
“Another burden is based on just our lifestyles. Folks have busy lives and then all of a sudden are distracted or forced to become that family caregiver. That is a gigantic burden.”
In fact, family caregiving is viewed as an important public health concern due to the risk of stress, physical strain, competing demands and financial hardship, according to the AARP report.
Swain said it is important for caregivers to identify the warning signs when parents need additional care and to call on a group like Homewatch CareGivers that can provide peace of mind.
“Homewatch CareGivers has been performing in-home care for 12-plus years, and we think home is where folks want to be. The alternatives that exist often carry a high financial burden also: Assisted living facilities can cost up to $40,000 or $50,000 a year and, in Michigan, nursing homes are close to $100,000 a year,” said Swain.
“The emphasis we place on what Homewatch CareGivers can do is parents can stay in their own environment where they want to be, often with just a few hours a day of assistance from a concierge personal assistant.”
Homewatch CareGivers provides several types of personalized service plans for care, including: elder, dementia, degenerative diseases, post-surgical, chronic condition and care for all ages. Through its elder care services, Homewatch CareGivers provides assistance running routine errands and light housekeeping, as well as companionship.
Ranging from short-term to long-term care assistance, the in-home caregiving team can even provide 24-hour care based on a customized plan.
The organization also provides a number of resources on topics such as in-home senior safety, health and wellness, communication, remote care technology and dementia.
Several signs to watch for in determining whether a parent may need additional care include: losing weight, losing interest in eating, not participating in conversation, and whether household chores are completed.
“By looking — simply observing their condition — much can be learned about whether (the parent) is able to live independently, or whether that adult should have somebody come into the home to help,” said Swain.
“Our team is specially trained to help with what we call the ‘three plagues of aging.’ It is loneliness, helplessness and boredom.”