One adult in 10 is a caregiver, survey reveals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—Eleven percent of the people who participated in a LifeWay Research survey said they or an immediate family member are the primary full-time caregiver to an elderly parent or a special needs child, a statistic also shown in two other national studies.

About 14 percent of American children under age 18 have special health care needs, according to the National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs. That survey defined children with special health care needs as “those who have or are at increased risk for a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition” and require health care beyond the amount required by children generally. Presumably, not all children included in the survey require full-time care.

The National Center for Health Statistics reports 36 out of every 1,000 Americans 65 and older live in a nursing home while 277 per 10,000 require home health care.

What do the findings from LifeWay's survey reveal?

According to the LifeWay study, marital status and race signal the most significant differences in people’s status as primary full-time caregivers. People who are unmarried and living with a partner (18 percent) are acting as primary caregivers for elderly parents or special needs children far more than either married people (11 percent) or single people (9 percent).

The online survey was conducted this fall using a national sample of Americans representative of the U.S. population in terms of gender, age, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, income and region of the country. The survey used an online panel weighted to be representative of the population. The sample size of 1,580 provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +2.5 percent.

Females (14 percent) are caregivers for elderly parents or special needs children more often than males (9 percent), according to the LifeWay Research data.

Neither education nor income level make much difference in a person’s likelihood of being a full-time primary caregiver to a child or parent. There is also no significant difference based on region of the country. However, people most able to outsource care to others—individuals making $100,000 or more—actually provide full-time care just as often (13 percent) as other income groups.

Eighteen percent of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are primary caregivers for elderly parents or special needs children, compared with 14 percent of blacks, 11 percent of Hispanics and 10 percent of whites.

Age and gender also are factors that correlate with differences in caregiving status. Those age 65 and older (6 percent) care for an elderly parent or special needs child less than any other age bracket. Fourteen percent of people ages 35 to 49 are primary caregivers, as are 12 percent of those ages 25 to 34, 12 percent of those ages 50 to 64 and 10 percent of those ages 18 to 24.

'Hands and feet of Jesus' or not?

“This research should open our eyes to the number of people in our churches and communities that are looking for people to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said.

“Many American church leaders and members that I know reject the idea of increased government involvement in establishing universal health care. But, for the most part, the American church continues to ignore the emphasis that Jesus himself placed on the poor and the sick. We disregard James’ exhortation to not forget the widows and orphans. Until caring for the sick and the poor becomes as cool as church planting and rapid church growth, the church should not be surprised when the government steps in to do our God-called work.”

What can churches do?

Too often church members are hesitant to provide support for people who are primary caregivers to an elderly parent or a special needs child, usually because they don’t know what to do.

Carmen Leal, author of The Twenty-Third Psalm for Caregivers, noted various ways churches can support the growing numbers of caregivers in an e-mail newsletter produced by LifeWay Research:

  • Assume that most caregivers won’t ask for help. “Instead, have a plan in action to find out if basic needs are being met due to the onslaught of medical bills and the possible loss of income,” Leal wrote. “Suggest that the church benevolence fund can offer limited help and guide the caregiver through the application process.”
  • Find the caregiver an advocate within the church. Leal noted many people in a church won’t have the experience or skill set to establish a ministry for caregivers, but they could advocate for one person. This person can help the caregiver access resources inside and outside the church such as helping him or her connect with a Bible study group or finding local community assistance programs such as the Salvation Army and the United Way that might help pay for items such as utilities, groceries, and other needs,” she wrote. It’s important, Leal said, for a person in the advocate role to work hard at keeping the caregiver connected with others in the church rather than taking on all of the needs of the caregiver. “In taking on too much personally, it would be very easy for the advocate to become overwhelmed and then to simply drop out of the picture for the caregiver—potentially doing more harm than good,” Leal wrote.
  • Create a church culture that “finds a need then meets it.” After David’s diagnosis doctors suggested a 5,000-calorie a day diet to help with his rapid weight loss,” Leal wrote of her husband’s battle with a neurodegenerative disease. “His loss of swallowing ability led to a feeding tube and the need for supplements such as Ensure or Boost. The best thing my home church did before we moved was to set up an opportunity for members to bring six packs or cases of Ensure to church for us. “Others clipped coupons to help defray the cost of purchasing Ensure. This simple act of kindness kept David alive and allowed me to use our money to buy groceries for growing teens,” Leal said.
  • Track resources that are available to families in financial need. Church members with an interest in ministering to caregivers should be familiar with resources that offer free or reduced cost prescription drugs, vision and dental care, Leal said. Such resources include pharmaceutical patient assistance programs such as RX Assist or and vision assistance programs such as Vision USA or Eye Care America. “Be aware of the caregiver’s ever-shrinking world and make calls and visits,” Leal also wrote. “There are also many communities online so the caregiver can connect with others.” ther advice Leal offered includes helping caregivers learn about where to find free or inexpensive household items such as Habitat Resources or Also, help caregivers learn more about the diseases they are dealing with, such as by directing them to the National Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society or another applicable group.
  • Provide an old computer and basic computer skills. If caregivers don’t have a computer, there may be a church member who has upgraded their equipment and would be willing to donate their old desktop or laptop to a homebound caregiver needing online support, Leal said. Perhaps most importantly, Leal said, churches should not overlook the spiritual needs of a caregiver or of the one needing the care. Personal visits and prayer are the minimum a caregiver should expect from their faith community, she noted, and one of the most crucial matters to address is whether the person in need is trusting Jesus for salvation.

With additional reporting by Erin Roach

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