Growing Number Of American Children Serve As Caregiver To Sick Parents

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February 23, 2009 8:26 a.m. EST

AHN Staff
New York, NY (AHN) – With the economic crisis in the U.S. worsening, and as a growing number of elderly Americans acquire chronic ailments, more health care duties are being performed by their children. Given this situation, health experts said the number of children who serve as caregiver to their parents – estimated by a 2005 national survey at 3 percent of U.S. households – will continue to rise.

Other factors for the early burden on children include chronically ill patients leaving the hospital as soon as they could, longer life spans, and lack of finances to shoulder wages of paid help.

Carol Levine, director of families and health care at United Hospital Fund, pointed out the new trend is a reverse of society outlook in which the community views children as being take care of, not the children taking care of someone else. She explained children who are forced to act as caregivers at such an early age may either do their tasks well and even gain confidence, or resent the responsibility and express it by doing poorly in school or feel limited by their task.

The situation has led several groups to craft programs for children where they could find support. The United Hospital Fund launched in January the Next Step in Care website which offers guides and checklists for family caregivers and health care providers with the aim to make the patients’ transition from hospital to home smoother and safer.

Outside of children caregivers, the UHF estimates 34 million Americans, or one in five adults, serve as family caregivers. Levine described them as the invisible workforce in health care.

"They are usually responsible for coordination of care after a stay in a hospital, nursing home, or after home care services end. Yet they are rarely trained, supported, or included in transition planning. These guides are intended to give them basic information to navigate an increasingly complex system," Levine said in a statement.

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