Stay in a lovely town like Bethesda, Maryland long enough and you could hardly be blamed for thinking that ripe blackberries overhang all busy footpaths, or that it’s possible, at one- or two-mile intervals, to find top-rated physicians; in Bethesda is where one finds the National Institute of Health headquarters, after all. Some have a true appreciation for the fortunate circumstance that living in one of Maryland’s major centers for medicine is, but even here — where a good family practitioner in Gaithersburg or Rockville is never too far away — there exist households where the main duties of daily health care are carried out not by medical professionals, but by non-paid family members. This much is only part of what the latest update to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s report, “Valuing the Invaluable,” is suggesting.

If you have aging family members, whether you live in Washington state or in Maryland, long term care manageability is of special concern to you, as is locating skilled doctors. The AARP report, which takes a look at the contributions of family caregivers in the United States, is noteworthy for the insights it delivers concerning the monetary worth of the long-term care duties performed inside ordinary American households to accommodate ailing kin. The care given by family mostly goes unpaid, but if their efforts were quantified in dollars, the price is mighty high, per the report’s findings.

The report shows the following figures: in 2009, 42.1 million family caregivers provided daily assistance to relatives and 61.6 million did likewise intermittently. Within a single year those efforts are estimated to be worth $450 billion. Moreover, the AARP’s report claims that of all the family members caring for disabled or sick relatives, two-thirds are women. It seems that the number of families that find themselves in such living arrangements is growing, but changes to the traditional family structure, as well as pressing economic factors, are contributing to the heightening of familial strain on account of the uneven distribution of family labor. It’s one thing to have relatively easy access to a decent hospital practice when it’s needed, but the sustained effort that long-term care requires can be a formidable burden without adequate support. That’s why many are calling out for greater federal support and recognition to families performing these truly invaluable obligations.

Sam Walters is currently writing from Los Angeles about her bicoastal interests. Her writing appears in print and online.

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