With so much in the news about health care and the needs of the elderly, it is important to remember that families -- not social service agencies, nursing homes or government programs -- are the mainstay for older people. Nationwide, more than 22.4 million people provide unpaid help to older persons. They help with shopping, transportation, household chores, bathing, dressing, meals and medications.
Family caregivers provide more than 80 percent of all home care services. It is estimated that these individuals contribute some $257 billion annually to the nation's health care system, an amount that significantly reduces costs to Medicare, Medicaid and private payers. Yet these caregivers, mostly women, often experience substantial stresses and burdens as a consequence.
Prolonged caregiving can adversely affect one's physical and psychological health, earnings capability and the ability to meet personal needs. As the population ages and as medical science continues to extend life, the number of family caregivers will increase rapidly. So will their needs.
The Erie County Department of Senior Services is one local organization trying to help. We urge anyone who is struggling with caregiving to call us or visit our Web site at www.erie.gov/depts/seniorservices.
Pamela M. Krawczyk
Commissioner, Erie County Department of Senior Services