Many years ago, the Women’s Health Network framed a trend that is in need of attention:
In the summer of 2005, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court. Her reason? Justice O’Connor said that she needed to spend more time providing care for her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. For many women, Justice O’Connor’s decision resonated with their own circumstances and difficult decisions about work, life, and family.
An estimated 59-75% of caregivers are women. Not only do more women provide caregiving, but the women that provide care also spend 50% more time providing care compared to male caregivers.
The Toll of Caregiving
Caregiving has physical, mental and financial effects that are holding women, and the economy, back. As women provide more weekly care, these effects become more pronounced. For example, health risks are common with nine hours of care or more a week. Many caregivers describe their health as being “fair to poor”. As the hourly demand for care increases, women caregivers are also more likely to have high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, weak immune systems, and cardiovascular disease. Depression is also a common experience. Between 20—50% of caregivers report depressive symptoms, and they report more symptoms than their non-caregiving peers.
Women’s caregiving is essential in providing a backbone of support for American long-term care, but it comes at a cost. The financial burden on women caregivers resonates from a variety of sources such as lost wages, time out of the work force, family leave, early retirement, cost of care, etc. In fact, the value of the informal care that women provide ranges from $148 billion to $188 billion annually. We all need to do more to help.
What you can do about it
Money can help, but more than anything, women need people to help do what they do. If you want to help, offer your time. You don’t have to make a large commitment to have a profound effect on a caregiver. Start small. Offer a ride or to simply spend time over at the house. If a caregiver doesn’t accept, a little persistence might work. For caregivers, accepting help can be difficult but that doesn’t mean we should give up.
Educate yourself on local resources and support groups and see if you can do something to tap into these community networks such as the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DCOG) Aging Services which has an abundance of information that can help you learn more about aging and understand what is going on in your area. If you would like to speak with someone for help in the Denver area, the DCOG provides the Network of Care. For telephone assistance you can call (303) 480-6700 or you can email them firstname.lastname@example.org. For further assistance coordinating care, you can get in touch with a care manager in your area.