If you’ve seen the latest facts and figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, you know the numbers are staggering. There are over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s right now, and that number is expected to climb to 14 million by 2050 unless there are significant breakthroughs in research.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
The health and long-term care costs associated with the disease are astronomical. In 2013 alone, we’re talking about payments to the tune of $203 billion, and by 2050 that number is expected to skyrocket to $1.2 trillion. Folks, that’s a 500% increase!
With so many people afflicted, and considering the cost of care, it’s no wonder that an increasing number of family members are assuming the role of primary caregiver. The latest statistics indicate that the 17 billion hours of unpaid care provided by over 15 million caregivers is valued at more than $215 billion – yes, that’s billion with a B. And the caregiving experience, wrought with emotional and physical challenges, takes its toll. Naturally, it would follow then, that those same caregivers incurred over $9 billion of their own additional health care costs in 2012 alone.
The latest findings also estimate that approximately 15% of those providing Alzheimer’s care are doing this incredibly difficult job from a distance of at least an hour away. Those caregivers have annual out of pocket expenses almost twice those of their local counterparts.
Service in Exchange for Debt Forgiveness
These numbers are eye opening to say the least, and they underscore the importance of finding creative ways to deal with the growing issue. One idea just starting to gain traction is that of a Caregiver Corps made up of volunteer caregivers. The concept is in the same vein as the Peace Corps and Teach for America, but on a more local level.
The brainchild of Janice Lynch Schuster, the Caregiver Corps would offer perks such as debt forgiveness for college graduates, college tuition credits for high school students, and small stipends for older volunteers. Like the organizations this would be modeled after, a 2-year commitment would likely be required, but the work could be done locally since every community bears this need.
While this is far from the end-all be-all solution for the growing issue, it would certainly provide some level of relief for families dealing with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In a recent New York Times article, Schuster also suggested that this concept might help to bridge the generational divide, reducing ageism and creating a greater bond between young and old. As with any new idea, the right groups would need to be engaged and there are many questions that would have to be addressed, but it could change the way we view caregiving.
Sign the Petition Today
If you think this might be a viable approach, visit We the People to sign a petition and let the White House know you support the idea. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by April 5, and when I added my name earlier today, they were short by almost 99,000.
As Helen Keller said, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.” We don’t have much time, but let’s spread the word. With the number of Alzheimer’s cases growing exponentially, there’s no time like the present to start thinking outside the box and exploring options that might help to ease the burden faced by caregivers across America.
Let us know what you think about Caregiver Corps by leaving a comment.