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The $450 billion cost of caregiving

My husband had some minor knee surgery yesterday and I'm home today as caregiver, because he can't really do much except stay in bed and keep ice on his knee. When we got out of the surgery center yesterday at 5ish, we were both tired. Tony from his surgery (and not eating or drinking anything since midnight the day before) and me from being up extra early to get stories done before taking Tony to his surgery.

We were sent home with a lot of after-care instructions and luckily, the instructions were written down, because when the nurse told us, it was like listening through a cloud, because of the tiredness. Our situation is quite temporary, thank goodness, but as I was driving home with my “patient” I thought of all the caregivers in the world who do this day in and day out, with little help. And I wondered how the caregiving gets done in a culture now where half of all women work.

And then in my email this morning, an Associated Press story on an AARP report about the high cost of caregiving in our culture. Three highlights:

1) AARP estimates the cultural pricetag of unpaid care at about $450 billion a year. “That's how much it might cost for the unpaid care that roughly one in every four adults provide; helping loved ones get dressed, take medications, and myriad other tasks.”

2) And caregivers typically work full time as well. The study found that the average individual is a 49-year-old woman with an outside job, who spends nearly 20 hours per week caring for her mother for nearly five years. That's one of the reasons the hidden costs for caregiving are increasing as well.

3) AARP noted that caregiving is getting more medically involved, due to factors like shorter hospital stays and more home-based medical technologies. Caregives “often have little training or preparation for performing these tasks, which include bandaging and wound care, tube feedings, managing catheters, giving injections, or operating medical equipment.”

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Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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