Illustration by Iker Ayestaran

Thousands of Americans caring for others do not have access to adequate health care or the financial resources to care for themselves, says a Seattle
Pacific University study. These caregivers often do not have health insurance and are unable to visit their own doctors, putting not only their physical health at risk but also placing them at greater risk for depression and other mental health problems.

The study, published by the American Psychological Association, was based on a phone survey of 110,000 Americans conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Caregivers had a 26% higher risk of not having health care coverage, compared with noncaregivers, and they were at a significantly higher risk — a 59% additional risk — for not going to the doctor or getting a necessary health service due to cost,” said Jacob Bentley, author of the study and associate professor of clinical psychology at SPU.

“Caregivers had a 26% higher risk of not having health care coverage compared with noncaregivers.”
– Jacob Bentley

More than half (54.7%) of the caregivers in the study spent up to eight hours a week caring for someone; 17% spent 40 hours or more a week.

The research is based on interviews done in 2015, five years before the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed since then, with 17 million people out of work by the middle of the year, leaving more people without health insurance.

“While COVID-19-specific research on the topic is still evolving, we anticipate that people providing informal care are at risk for social isolation, burnout, and potentially limited interactions with health care facilities,” said Bentley. “Before the pandemic, our research indicated that caregivers were at an increased risk for lacking insurance and access to personally needed health services due to cost. For many, these vulnerabilities have been made worse by the pandemic and related economic fallout.”

It also takes time for caregivers to get their own health needs met. The researchers hope their study leads to additional research and the development of some low-cost, accessible services to meet the various needs of caregivers.

“Telehealth, phone-based services, and other programs located in the home provide opportunities to decentralize away from the health facility,” Bentley
said. “Peer support programs also offer unique opportunities for caregivers to connect with others who may have similar experiences while also reinforcing their own coping skills. This approach has the potential to keep costs down, develop community around shared experiences, and help caregivers cope with the wide-ranging demands placed on them.”

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