SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly half of all Utah voters who are age 40 or older have experience as a caregiver for an adult family member or loved one, according to the findings of a newly released AARP poll.
Of 801 Utahns 40 and older who were surveyed by AARP in September, 33 percent said they are currently a caregiver, and 15 percent have been one at some point previously.
Of caregivers surveyed, 71 percent have worked a job during their stint caring for a loved one, and two thirds of that group said they have had to change their work schedules in order to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities, the AARP found.
AARP Utah, a non-profit advocacy and membership services organization focused on aging, believes the survey findings underline the need for state policies requiring employers to provide their workers specially designated caregiver leave.
Laura Polacheck, spokeswoman for AARP Utah, said the organization will "definitely" be advocating for legislation addressing that issue in 2019.
"A lot of states are looking into doing that and have already done that, so that it's recognized that … if you have this responsibility, and you're providing this huge service not only to your family but to the state, that employers then (should) be required to provide some sort of workplace leave," Polacheck said.
Of all survey respondents, 86 percent said they favor requiring employers to let workers use existing sick leave for caregiving efforts, 80 percent favor requiring unpaid leave allotments for caregivers, and 68 percent favor setting aside a paid leave allotment for such an activity.
"All these different sacrifices caregivers make to keep everything afloat — it's just a real balancing act for people to do everything in their power to make sure that everyone is receiving the care they need and that they're doing their job sufficiently," Polacheck said.
"They have to make sure that their work performance in the workforce is going to be satisfactory, and not worry about losing their job because they're coming in late or leaving early."
AARP also polled respondents for their views on respite care, which the National Institute on Aging describes as "short-term relief for primary caregivers" by a medical professional which can "be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks."
The AARP said 84 percent of those surveyed "support the provision of respite care by a state or local agency to give family caregivers a break." AARP will also be talking to Utah lawmakers next year about legislation promoting the robust offering of such services by state and local agencies.
Polacheck said the AARP sees value in respite care services because they can allow the person receiving the care to stay at home, rather than be moved to live in a facility, while also providing relief for the caregiver themselves that is needed to keep the at-home arrangement doable for them as well.
"Having the ability to ease some of the emotional stress or just the time crunch that these caregivers have is very important. … They usually want to care for their loved one. They don't want to say, 'No, I don't have time,' or, 'I don't have the money or flexibility.' They want to keep being a caregiver."
There are currently some public resources for respite care in Utah. For example, the Utah Medicaid program lists respite care as one of the mental health services benefits it offers, and the state Department of Human Services also describes it as one of the services it provides that are "intended to help people with disabilities participate more fully in their communities."
Sixty-nine percent of surveyed caregivers told AARP Utah they have difficulty dealing emotionally with their responsibilities; 66 percent said they were stressed out by trying to balance their responsibilities with work and family obligations. Additionally, 63 percent said they "used their own money to provide care," Polacheck said.
Polacheck believes those findings show that more can be done across the board to support them as they help their loved ones maintain a quality of life.
"We wanted to get really a snapshot of what caregivers are going through in Utah right now," she said. "They're very overwhelmed."
AARP Utah said in a report summarizing the survey findings that there are an estimated 336,000 caregivers in Utah "providing $4.2 billion worth of care to their loved ones." Because of the immense magnitude of that care, the group's report said, they are collectively an economic asset that is not realistically replaceable.
"Utah does not have the ability to provide sufficient state resources to make up for the shortfall caused if these family caregivers were unable to provide services," AARP Utah's report states.
Other findings from the survey included the following:
• Of all respondents who were not caregivers, 65 percent said they believe they are at least somewhat likely to become a caregiver in the future.4 comments on this story
• Eighty-three percent of respondents said they would prefer to be cared for at home if they need caregiving in the future, rather than at an assisted living facility or nursing home.
• About 55 percent of respondents who said they are caregivers are women, and the average age of a caregiver respondent was 59.
AARP Utah defines a caregiver as a person providing for day to day needs "on an unpaid basis for an adult loved one who is ill, frail, elderly or who has a disability." The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.