Throughout the Commonwealth, family caregivers provide essential care to older adults and individuals with disabilities. According to AARP, there are 844,000 family caregivers in Massachusetts. A 2015 national AARP survey estimated that more than 42 million family caregivers each year provide unpaid care for their family members or friends.
Family caregiving is both rewarding and stressful, and is often one of many roles an individual plays. Caregivers are able to build a wide variety of skills and expertise, such as the right way to help someone with personal care, falls prevention techniques, and how to navigate the complexities of the medical and social service systems.
In June of 2017, The Massachusetts eHealth Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MeHI/MassTech) did a study about caregivers in the Commonwealth. Sixty percent of people surveyed said being a caregiver disrupts their life either “a great deal” (13 percent) or a “fair amount” (47 percent). Nearly half of them reported feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.
“You might not think of yourself as a ‘caregiver,’ but if you’re helping someone with meals, medications, chores or medical appointments, then you are a caregiver,” says Secretary Alice Bonner, Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA), which is a Coalition member. “Knowing where and how to get help, allows caregivers to maintain their own health and wellbeing while caring for their family member.”
EOEA offers a number of programs to help caregivers and their families, including the Massachusetts Family Caregiver Support Program (MFCSP). The federally-funded program is administered on the regional level through Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs).
When people first get involved with the program, they meet with a caregiver specialist who listens to their situation and develops a care plan to meet their specific needs. Examples of services include:
- Counseling - More than 3,100 caregivers annually receive counseling from the MFSCP to help them work through their stress and make sure they are practicing positive self-care.
- Direct Services - More than 850 get Direct Services to help relieve the day-to-day care responsibilities. This can come in many forms.
- Respite services include paid time for their care recipient to attend an adult day health facility, so the caregiver can have a break. It can also come in the form of scholarships, so kids being cared for by their grandparents can go to camp.
- Supplemental services allow for a variety of services, including modifications to be made to homes such as bars in the bathroom and tracking systems to keep their care recipient safe.
- Self-directed funds allow caregivers to decide how to best use funds, such as hiring a companion for a few hours.
- Education - More than 600,000 caregivers access information through a variety of media and communication sources. This helps caregivers build their understanding and navigate systems to get the services they and their care recipients need.
Whatever services caregivers need, the Massachusetts Caregiver Support Program is there to help find what will work best for them and their families. The program is available to adult family members or other non-paid caregivers over the age of 18 providing care to people 60 years or older, and those of any age who have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. It is also available for a grandparent or other relative over the age of 55 (other than a parent) who is providing care to a child under the age of 18, as well as to a grandparent or other relative over the age of 55 who is providing care to an adult with a disability who is 18 through 59 years of age.To learn more, please visit the program’s website or call 1-800-243-4636.