New Report Identifies Actions for Public Health Sector to Better Support Family Caregivers

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Addressing the health and well-being of family caregivers emerges as a public health priority

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Family caregivers are essential to safeguarding the health of millions of Americans, but they often perform this role at the expense of their own health, emotional well-being, and financial security, creating a silent public health crisis.

The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in partnership with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) issued a report that outlines immediate actions to help the public health community better serve family caregivers and improve their own health. “Chronic Disease Family Caregiving Through a Public Health Lens” puts forth actions for integrating caregivers and caregiving into public health practice and existing initiatives. The report is the result of a survey of 59 Chronic Disease Directors from U.S. states and territories, focus groups among the Chronic Disease Director network and a thought leader roundtable of experts in public health, aging, chronic disease, and family caregiving.

“Family caregivers are essential to safeguarding the health of millions of Americans, but they often perform this role at the expense of their own health, emotional well-being, and financial security, creating a silent public health crisis that deserves urgent attention,” said Jason Resendez, President and CEO of NAC. “We are proud to partner with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors to shine a light on this crisis and to catalyze the action needed to address it.”

According to the NAC and AARP, more than one in five adults — a total of 53 million Americans — are unpaid family caregivers, creating ripple effects across families, communities, and the public health of the nation. Data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) finds that 40% of family caregivers report having two or more chronic diseases and over half (53%) of caregivers indicated that a decline in their own health has comprised their ability to provide care. Given a lack of affordable and accessible long-term services and adequate home and community-based supports, unpaid family caregivers are essential to supporting family members navigating chronic conditions, serious illnesses, and intellectual and development disabilities across the lifespan.

NAC and NACDD–supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation–worked with a wide range of experts at the intersections of public health and family caregiving to identify actions that can be taken by public health departments, states, and the federal government to strengthen their ability to meet the complex needs of family caregivers, including:

National-Level Recommendations

  • Improve data collection on the health status of family caregivers – including factors that influence their health, disparities and evaluation of caregiver support and education programs.
  • Integrate and improve the science of family caregiver research and literature within the schools of public health and professional associations to adapt current systems and prepare future public health workforces.
  • Develop and disseminate messaging about the essential role of family caregivers and the importance of maintaining their health to audiences including providers, practitioners, employers, and emergency response officials.

Community-Level Recommendations

  • Convene multi-sector stakeholders to strengthen, support, and mobilize communities and partnerships that can implement policies and practices that ensure the health and wellness of family caregivers as well as the persons receiving care.
  • Increase funding and capacity for home and community-based services that are critical for family caregivers, including home care and direct care services, transportation, congregate and home-delivered meals, and family caregiver support.

“The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors recognizes that family caregivers are key contributors to the health of their loved ones and friends,” said John W. Robitscher, MPH, CEO of NACDD. “We are pleased to partner with the National Alliance for Caregiving and The John A. Hartford Foundation to address the important public health issue of family caregivers, which affects the lives of millions of people—not only for those receiving care, but also the impact on the lives and health of the caregivers, themselves.”

The report can be found here at https://www.caregiving.org/public-health/.

The report and corresponding meetings were supported by funding from The John A. Hartford Foundation.

“Addressing the health and well-being of family caregivers must be a public health priority,” said Rani E. Snyder, MPA, Vice President of Program at The John A. Hartford Foundation. “This report from two highly expert organizations provides a clear pathway on how the public health sector can join the growing whole-of-society movement to better support people who are lynchpins of care for millions of older adults.”

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About the National Alliance for Caregiving
Established in 1996, the National Alliance for Caregiving is a non-profit coalition of national organizations focusing on building health, wealth, and equity for family caregivers through research, innovation, and advocacy. We envision a society that values, supports, and empowers family caregivers to thrive at home, work, and life. Learn more at http://www.caregiving.org.

About the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors
NACDD and its more than 7,000 Members seek to strengthen state-based leadership and expertise for chronic disease prevention and control in states and nationally. Established in 1988, in partnership with the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NACDD is the only membership association of its kind to serve and represent every chronic disease division in all states and U.S. territories. For more information, visit chronicdisease.org.

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Michael R. Wittke