To the editor:
Nearly one in five people reading this newspaper is a family caregiver someone who provides unpaid financial, physical, or emotional support to a family member or friend over the age of 50.
Studies have shown that family caregivers spend an average of about 20 hours a week providing care to loved ones, and that this unpaid work represents more than 80 percent of all long-term care services in the United States. The estimated market value of the care we provide is more than $375 billion dollars more than the current Medicaid budget. Providing care takes a toll on our families in lost earning potential and psychological stress.
Though the burden on family members has been identified and many recognize us as the backbone of the system providing for aging members of society, our perspectives and needs are still unheard and unmet. Our state and local budgets allow insufficient funding for outreach and information sources for caregivers, public programs cannot accommodate the demand and private support services are unaffordable to most.
All members of our community should want to support family caregivers. Studies have shown that when family caregivers receive adequate support through effective information outreach and accessible community-based programs, we are able to keep loved ones out of publicly-funded long-term care facilities and in their homes. Support for family caregivers is crucial to us all, as we know that Medicare and Medicaid systems can barely support our current population, and the need is only growing.
In Virginia, by 2030, the number of people over 65 will have doubled. This will be a doubling of those who will need access to services such as Alzheimers day centers and senior centers, safe transportation alternatives to driving, support with meals, home health care, financial management and legal support. The doubling of our senior citizen population also means that if you are not providing care to someone now, chances are that you will be soon. Without attention to these needs by our communities, families will increasingly bear the burden of caring for seniors meaning more financial and psychological hardship, and faster placements in facilities.
I urge family caregivers in Alexandria to attend upcoming public Town Hall meetings to provide your input to the planning process that will develop a 5-year Strategic Plan for Aging in Alexandria. Tell those developing this plan what caregivers need to be able to help our seniors remain at home, to ensure their health and safety, and to keep them engaged in fulfilling activities and relationships in our community. If you are a caregiver or will be soon you need to make yourself heard!
Town Hall forums will be held on February 23 at the Minnie Howard Campus of T.C. Williams High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and on March 3 at the First Baptist Church from noon to 2 p.m. For more information Please visit www.alexandriava.gov/aging.