Thirteen million of the nation's baby boomers are caregivers of sick parents and deeply involved in every facet of their parents' care, from diagnosis to treatment, according to a 2005 survey from Campbell-Ewald Health, a communications agency specializing in connecting the health care industry with American consumers.
The survey of 815 boomer caregivers, aged 40-60, and elderly parents, aged 60-90, examines how both groups interact when the parents are ill.
An equal number of boomers and parents surveyed (56%) agreed that boomers provide assistance to elders at least once a week, with 25 percent of those boomers and 22 percent of those elders concurring that boomers play a caregiving role in their parents' lives every single day.
Yet, discrepancies occurred when both groups were asked to recall the specific details of that care. From who initiated discussions with physicians to help with doctor and pharmacy visits and reminders to take medication, boomer children consistently see their involvement as greater than elders do.
Surprisingly, 25 percent of boomer caregivers surveyed now live together with their parents. For these boomers, the challenges--as well as the rewards--of caregiving are substantially magnified.
"The survey fills a gap in information about the role boomers play in caring for their aging parents, who have accounted for at least 36 percent(1) of total U.S. health care spending over the past five years, which we estimate conservatively to be about $100 billion a year,"(2) said Lori Laurent Smith, Senior Vice President of Campbell-Ewald Health and a health care marketing expert. "Our research confirms that boomers are committed caregivers who have great influence over their parents' health care decision-making."
Of those boomers surveyed, 49 percent were female and 51 percent were male. Regardless, both genders performed the same caregiving activities and had the same emotional responses to the experience.
The "Frasier Crane" Experience
Like the fictional television psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane, who lived with and cared for his ailing father, boomer caregivers who live with their elderly parents experience deep involvement and a complicated range of emotions--especially compared to boomer caregivers who do not live with their parents.
Boomers who live with their parents are considerably more involved on a monthly basis than boomers who do not: pharmacy visits (80%, live with vs. 37%, don't), reminders to take medication (60%, live with vs. 38%, don't), medication dosing (52%, live with, vs. 13%, don't), doctor visits (85%, live with vs. 61%, don't), appointment scheduling (69%, live with vs. 41%, don't), lab visits (65%, live with vs. 26%, don't) and medical bills (47%, live with vs. 24%, don't).
Undeniably, boomers have many concerns about the impact of caregiving, and as with other survey findings, concerns are even more intense for those who live with their parents. These include:
-- emotional well-being (58%, live with vs. 43%, don't),
-- personal relationships (43%, live with vs. 33%, don't),
-- physical well-being (40%, live with vs. 27%, don't),
-- parent's needs will surpass own capabilities (40%, live with vs. 25%, don't),
-- costs of parent's care on own family's finances (34%, live with vs. 19%, don't),
-- own career development (33%, live with vs. 16%, don't) and
-- own retirement plans (32%, live with vs. 16%, don't).
While the responsibilities loom larger for boomers who live with their parents, the emotional experience of caregiving is consistently more positive: feel appreciated (64%, live with vs. 49%, don't), responsible (59%, live with vs. 48%, don't), loving (52%, live with vs. 42%, don't), grateful (35%, live with vs. 21%, don't) and proud (30%, live with vs. 20%, don't).
Still, many of these boomers admit to feelings of frustration (45%), being overwhelmed (40%) and guilt (25%)--largely the same for boomers who do not live with their parents (40%, 36%, 25% respectively).
"Our data mirrors, in many ways, the intricate relationship between Frasier and his father," said Laurent Smith. "As a caregiver under the same roof, Frasier experienced intense involvement and emotions, which ran the gamut from tense and antagonistic to loving and grateful. Yet, in the end--for Frasier, as in the survey findings--the positive aspects of caregiving outweighed the difficulties, making for less tension in the relationship and in the Crane household overall."
"With the depth of feelings experienced by boomers who live with their parents, and the overwhelming responsibilities they bear, there is an enormous opportunity here for the health care community to reach out to this influential population," added Laurent Smith.
Boomers' Role Significant, Constant and Hands-On; But Discrepancies Abound
Overall, both boomers who live with their parents and those who do not play a major role in caring for their sick parents. But the survey also shows a disconnection between boomers' recollections of assisting their parents and what the elderly themselves believe their children are doing.
For example, boomers perceive that they have greater concern for their parents than elders claim. Fifty-six percent of boomers said their concerns prompted their parents to bring symptoms to the doctor, but only 28 percent of the elderly agree. Furthermore, when asked who initiated the discussion about the parents' symptoms during the visit to the doctor, 21 percent of boomers say they did, a recollection shared by only five percent of the elderly.
Consistent with the above findings, more boomers (42%) claim they are very to extremely involved in their parents' diagnoses than elders (29%) perceive them to be.
When questioned about monthly health care assistance, 67 percent of boomers recall taking their parents to doctor visits, while only 45 percent of elders share this recollection. Additional discrepancies include pharmacy visits (48%, boomers vs. 28%, elders), appointment scheduling (48%, boomers vs. 22%, elders), lab visits (36%, boomers vs. 20%, elders) and medical bills (30%, boomers vs. 11%, elders).
Despite the challenges of the caregiving experience for both boomers and elders, and their differing views on the matter, only 14 percent of boomers said they felt tension with their parents and only eight percent of elders with their children.
"Although boomers are clearly and profoundly involved in every aspect of their parents' care, these discrepancies in perceptions between boomers and elders point to the complexities of the caregiver role," said David Lockwood, Senior Vice President, Campbell-Ewald Health. In his position, Lockwood oversaw the survey research and manages a team of cultural anthropologists who examine differences in social relationships at various life stages.
"Historically, the parent and child relationship is a complicated one on many levels--particularly as parents become ill and their roles reverse. This transition is understandably wrought with stress as the parent gradually, and often reluctantly, relinquishes power to the child. The perceptions of both regarding the parent's ability to manage on their own and of what it takes to get various tasks done are bound to differ. It's inevitable--the discrepancies bear this out," said Lockwood.
Caregiving -- A Double-Edged Sword
Caregivers on the whole feel appreciated (53%), responsible (51%), loving (44%), grateful (24%) and proud (22%) in their role--but caregiving also takes an emotional toll on boomers who express frustration (41%), being overwhelmed (37%) and guilt (25%).
Like boomers, parents report a range of emotions. For them, however, the good far outweighs the bad. Seventeen percent said they experience guilt, 12 percent indicate frustration and 10 percent feel sad. On the positive side, most of the elderly feel thankful (76%), appreciated (64%), grateful (62%), loving (58%) and proud (54%).
For all boomer caregivers, top of mind is the impact of caregiving on their lives: emotional well-being (47%), personal relationships (36%), physical well-being (31%) and sibling relationships (30%). Twenty-nine percent of boomers also expressed concern that their parents' needs will surpass their own capabilities.
Unexpectedly, lower on their list of concerns is how their parents' care will impact their own family finances (22%), affect their career (20%) or impact their retirement plans (20%). Only 15 percent are concerned over how to reduce the time commitment required by caregiving.
For boomers, the cost of drugs (34%) and dealing with insurance companies (24%) are more frustrating than for elders (22% and 11%)--surprising given that many elders live on a tight fixed income.
Only eight percent of parents are frustrated because they feel like they are a burden to their children.
Boomers now account for 27 percent of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census. "With the youngest boomers nearing the age of 50, we expect the number of those assuming a caregiver role to rise steadily over the next decade," said Laurent Smith. "And with this growth will come even greater opportunity to address their emotional concerns and needs. We are seeing just the tip of the iceberg now."
The Campbell-Ewald survey on how baby boomer caregivers and elderly parents interact in sickness is based on a sample of 815 boomer caregivers and elderly parents. Specifically, participants included 406 boomers, aged 40-60, who have parents diagnosed with one or more of the following health issues: arthritis/pain management, angina, diabetes, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder and/or social anxiety; and 409 elders, aged 60-90, diagnosed with one or more of the above who have a boomer-aged child as their main caregiver. The survey was conducted online by Hall & Partners Healthcare from July 18 to August 15, 2005, and has a margin of error range of +/- 3.5 to 5 percent.
About Campbell-Ewald Health
Campbell-Ewald Health, specializing in connecting the health care industry with American consumers, is a unit of Campbell-Ewald, the nation's sixth largest advertising and marketing communications agency network. With more than 1,200 employees at its headquarters in Detroit and offices in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, and White Plains, N.Y., Campbell-Ewald partners with a score of national health care brands, including American Heart Association, Kaiser Permanente and the University of Michigan Health System. In addition, Campbell-Ewald represents major brands in many other industries, including Chevrolet, the United States Postal Service, Farmers Insurance, BISSELL, Michelin, OnStar and the United States Navy. For more information, visit www.campbell-ewald.com.
1. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1999
2. Extrapolated from The Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services' 2005 health care spending estimate of $1.9 trillion.
Wichard & Young, Inc.
Sheree Wichard, 718-788-9585
Donel Young, 732-295-2406
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