Caregiving – A Public Health Issue

By Beverly Brem, Executive Director, AllOne Health

So, let’s level set: What is a “caregiver?” For this article, we mean someone who provides continuing assistance to a parent, partner, or child and is unpaid for that help.

Most of us probably would agree that COVID-19, opioid overdoses, and food insecurity are public health issues. But caregiving? Yes.

A recent CDC publication, “Caregiving for Family and Friends – A Public Health Issue,” presented data collected on subjects 45 years of age and older from 2015 to 2017, using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Key findings include:

  • Nearly 15% of caregivers reported experiencing 14 or more mentally unhealthy days in the past month.
  • Nearly 18% of caregivers reported experiencing 14 or more physically unhealthy days in the past month.
  • Nearly 37% of caregivers reported getting fewer than seven hours of sleep a night.

Additionally, a recent survey of its members conducted by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) revealed:

  • Caregivers saw a 26% greater impact on health conditions that could lower their overall health.
  • Caregivers had higher than benchmark prevalence of adjustment disorder, anxiety, depression, tobacco use, hypertension, and obesity.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has increased the need and intensity of the need for caregivers.

The data demonstrate that caregiving is a public health issue. Not only that, but it also is an employment issue. A 2022 article, “Caregiving-Related Work Productivity Loss Among Employed Family and Other Unpaid Caregivers of Older Adults,” states “nearly 1 in 4 (23.3%) of the estimated 8.8. million employed family caregivers reported either absenteeism or presenteeism (being at work but underperforming) over one month, due to caregiving. Among those affected, caregiving reduced work productivity by one-third on average – or an estimated $5,600 per employee when annualized across all employed caregivers – primarily because of reduced performance while present at work.”

So what can organizational leaders do to come alongside their employees or members who are caregivers in their “off-time?” Here are several items to consider:

  • “See” your members. Asking someone how it’s going with their parent or child, for example, can go a long way in helping the person feel that you care about their circumstances.
  • Offer flexibility where you can.
  • Remind people that they have an Assistance Program that can help them find resources for their loved ones – as well as for themselves.

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