Caregivers' Stress Remains Hot Topic

by David Gorn

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UCLA researcher Geoff Hoffman is a little alarmed. His study took a look at the health risks of caregivers in California and found that the emotional and financial load of stress on caregivers in California may be causing the caregivers themselves to develop chronic health conditions.

"There appears to be a high level of distress and risky health behaviors in caregivers," Hoffman said. "Smoking, binge drinking and poor diet."

Ironically, it may be the caregivers themselves who face an unhealthy future, he said.

"They care for others, but unfortunately they don't take care of themselves," Hoffman said. "They're setting themselves up to be the next generation of people needing care."

The data for the study came from the 2009 California Health Interview Survey conducted well before the recent rounds of cuts to In-Home Supportive Services and elimination of the adult day health care program as a Medi-Cal benefit. Those policy decisions could push caregivers even further, Hoffman said.

"This should be of considerable interest to policymakers," he said.

Assembly member Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) -- one of those policymakers -- said the problem is a particularly powerful problem in California with the nation's largest population of aging baby boomers.

"Caregiver burnout is real," Yamada said, "and it's becoming its own crisis. Eliminating respite and adult day health care puts primary caregivers on the pathway to depression, self-neglect and worse."

Hoffman said this study confirms what was suspected anecdotally -- that the "sandwich generation" in particular (those who care for parents and children) may be in peril.

"Those programs that help caregivers, those are essential," Hoffman said. "Elimination of certain programs means that it becomes more difficult and costly for older adults to live in the community."

Much of the focus on elimination of the ADHC benefit has been on the frail, disabled and elderly who receive those benefits, but the ones who take care of them also pay a price, he said.

"This emotional toll on middle-aged Californians is enormous," Hoffman said. "It is a very heavy toll, and it's one that hasn't been faced up to yet."


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