|Family caregivers provide unpaid help to older adults who are living in the community and need assistance to continue living safely in their own homes. They include spouses, adult children, adult relatives, and friends.|
These caregivers may provide assistance such as shopping, bathing, dressing or preparing meals, or they might arrange for and oversee services such as home maintenance, paying bills, or other like services.
Though it is often rewarding, caregiving can be stressful - physically, mentally, and emotionally. Often, caregivers are seniors themselves.
Experience shows that caregivers need to set limits, care for themselves, and involve others in caregiving tasks. Caregivers, however, don't always know what help is available or how to access it. Many times they are desperate for assistance and respite from caregiving tasks before they even begin the search for help.
The efforts of family caregivers save tax dollars for state and local governments who are faced with the challenge of covering the health and long-term care costs of people who are ill, have chronic disabilities, and have no means to pay for needed services. Nationwide, it is estimated that if the work of caregivers had to be replaced by paid home care aides, the cost would be $45-75 billion per year.
Paid home care is the exception, not the rule, for the majority of older adults living at home with chronic health care needs that limit their functioning. Without family caregivers, seniors who have been able to continue to live at home might need institutionalization in a long-term care facility and would become more, if not totally, dependent on state and local tax dollars.
With the 2001 reauthorization of the Older American's Act came a new initiative, the National Family Caregiver Support Law. This program gives primary focus to the caregiver, not the care recipient. Area Agencies on Aging now have the responsibility to plan, provide and coordinate multifaceted systems of support services specifically designed to support family caregivers.
The National Family Caregiver Support Law specifies five service categories:
- information about services
- assistance with gaining access to services
- individual counseling, organization of support groups, training to help caregivers make informed decisions and solve problems related to caregiving
- respite for caregivers
- supplemental services to complement the care provided by caregivers
The Area Agencies on Aging are charged with expanding and enhancing coordination and collaboration with a wide variety of agencies and groups to:
- leverage resources
- identify and support critical caregiver needs
- expand successful services
All efforts have the common goal of helping older adults live in their community in the least restrictive environment with maximum dignity and independence by supporting the efforts of caregivers.
The Vision for North Carolina
The North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services and Triangle J Area Agency on Aging envision a future in which:
"Families enter into caregiving with the knowledge and assurance that they can call upon the business, faith and health and human service communities to assist with information, counseling, problem solving, respite, and formal services when needed. Families are respected as the decision-makers and have access to tools to aid their problem solving. The contribution of family caregiving is acknowledged and supported through enlightened public policies. The role of the family remains strong regardless of the care setting or arrangement. "