A recent health policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research has culled noteworthy data regarding informal caregivers from the 2009 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the largest statewide health survey in the United States.
Informal caregivers, or individuals who provide care to a friend or family member, annually provide billions of dollars’ worth of uncompensated care. The amount of unpaid care is likely to increase as the population ages and as states and other governing bodies institute budget cuts that reduce social services. The CHIS data ultimately suggests that informal caregivers require additional support.
The CHIS found that over six million Californians provided informal care for a family member or friend in 2009. Compared to non-caregivers, California’s informal caregivers were more likely to be female, middle-aged, and have some college education. Just over half worked full-time, while 11 percent worked part-time. On average, caregivers provided over 21 hours of care per week, while, for those living with care recipients, average time of care provided was close to 40 hours per week. Only 13.5 percent of caregivers used respite care as a way to deal with caregiver strain.
Despite the infrequent use of respite support, caregivers in the study experienced negative effects of strain. This was particularly true of middle-aged caregivers, who were significantly more likely to engage in risky health behaviors such as smoking and binge drinking. This group was also more likely to report poorer health overall. Compared to non-caregivers, caregivers of all age groups reported significantly higher levels of psychological distress and poor health behavior.
The report concludes that, despite some provisions in recent health care reforms that provide some assistance to caregivers, additional assistance is necessary. Some policies suggested in the report include expanding paid family leave policies to keep caregivers in the workforce, and improved coordination of programs at state and local levels.