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FROM THE VAULT: Spotlighting 'informal' caregivers (2010)

FROM THE VAULT: Spotlighting 'informal' caregivers (2010)

Informal Caregivers: Unsung Heroes

Odds are that you or someone you know is helping New York State save billions of dollars in health care costs annually. How's that you say? By being an informal caregiver. A recent report from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield states that nearly two million New York State adults provide informal care to family members, neighbors or friends who need assistance with everyday or health-related activities due to chronic physical or mental impairments.

The usually unpaid hours put in by these informal caregivers have an estimated annual economic value of nearly 20 billion dollars! "The approximate statewide value of informal caregiving is on par with the total amount that New York State paid for Medicaid and long-term care service in 2008" said Dr. Marybeth K. McCall, Excellus BCBS's Chief Medical Officer.

With an aging baby boom population, advancing medical technology that's increasing life expectancy and shortening hospital stays due to fewer health care workers, the importance of informal caregivers can't be underestimated. The report found that a little over 13 percent of all upstate New Yorkers identify themselves as informal caregivers, as defined by the questions in a survey, which means it's likely that you know someone who falls into that category. If you do--ask them how they're handling it. The answer may surprise you.

Although being a caregiver can be very gratifying, it can also bring emotional, financial and health-related challenges. In fact, more than half of upstate's informal caregivers report some issues related to their caregiving. There are higher instances of depression and a perception of a lack of emotional support. Many informal caregivers express concern about not having enough time for themselves and cite their caregiving activity as a source for financial strain because of missed time at work.

Informal caregiving is a major public health issue, and its impact on the health-related quality of life for millions of New Yorkers will only continue to grow as the last wave of baby boomers enters their senior years. Demand is only going to go up for caregivers, and with that in mind Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has highlighted some tips from experts to ease the challenges faced by informal caregivers:

• Identify and use available community resources.

• Get caregiver training.

• Learn about your care receiver's condition and maintain medical records so you can best communicate with his or her physician and other providers.

• Recognize caregiving as a job and seek well-deserved respite whenever possible.

• Watch for signs of depression and don't hesitate to seek professional help.

• Accept help from those who offer it. Involve family ad extended family as much as possible.

• Be open to opportunities and suggestions to help your loved one be more independent.

• Trust your instincts. They will usually lead you in the right direction.

• To protect yourself and your care recipient, use proper lifting, pushing and pulling techniques when engaging in care activities.

• As you grieve your losses, allow yourself to dream new dreams.

• Seek the support of other caregivers. There is strength in knowing you are not alone.

If you know someone who has selflessly taken on the noble job of caring for a relative or friend, let them know how much you appreciate what they do. That positive reinforcement may be just enough to help them get through their day with a smile.

Additional information on caregiving is available from

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

By Christopher Coyne