More than 43 million American adults care for their loved ones every year, but a new survey shows they are more likely to neglect their own health in the process.
The survey found that those who regularly care for a family member or friend with a health problem are less likely to access needed services due to cost or lack of health insurance.
"Caregivers provide tremendous benefits for their loved ones, yet they may be at risk for lacking access to needed services, which puts their health in jeopardy," said study co-author Jacob Bentley, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University.
"We found that caregivers were more likely not to have health care coverage or forgo needed medical appointments and services," he added.
The study, published online recently in Rehabilitation Psychology, only included those providing care to family and friends.
"Informal caregiving provides enormous economic value to our society because if we were to replace informal caregiving with formal, paid caregiving services, it could cost the country upwards of $600 billion in wages for home health aides," Bentley said in a journal news release.
"Despite the economic benefits for society and valuable assistance provided to care recipients, attention must also be given to caregivers' own financial, physical and emotional challenges," he noted.
Data from more than 24,000 participants was studied. The majority of participants were white women under 65 who earned between $10,000 and $70,000 each year. Fifty percent were employed, with the other half being unemployed or retired.
Over half of participants provided up to eight hours of care for a family member or friend each week. Care included tasks such as household chores, managing money or cooking meals.
Both caregiver health insurance status and mental health status were recorded.
"Caregivers had a 26% higher risk of not having health care coverage, compared with non-caregivers, 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," Bentley said.
Additionally, about one-quarter of caregivers reported being diagnosed with a depressive disorder at some point in their lives. According to the study, this represents a 36% increased risk more than non-caregivers. About 30% also experienced at least one limitation to daily activities because of physical, mental or emotional problems.
"Given the scope of difficulties acquiring health care coverage and utilizing needed services in this large national sample, we believe our findings warrant additional research and likely the development of low-cost and accessible services that meet the multifaceted needs of caregivers," Bentley said.
AARP has more on resources for caregivers.