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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Johns Hopkins: ‘Invisible Work’ Takes Toll on Unpaid Caregivers

Unpaid family and friends who assist older people with disabilities by coordinating doctor appointments and managing medications are significantly more likely to experience emotional, physical and financial difficulties than caregivers who don’t provide this type of support, new research finds.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers, reporting in the February 15 JAMA Internal Medicine, say such caregivers are also three times more likely to be less productive at work due to distraction and/or fatigue, a phenomenon called “presenteeism,” as well as outright absenteeism. Researchers say this shows that there is a significant – and often unrecognized – cost borne by employers.

“A lot of work goes into managing the care of people with complex health needs, and this work is borne not only by health care providers and patients, but also by their families,” says Jennifer L. Wolff, PhD,  an associate professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School. “Little attention has been directed at understanding the extent of or consequences for this unpaid and invisible workforce that is vital to the care of the chronically ill. Our study aims to do that.”

The study finds in the United States, an estimated 14.7 million unpaid caregivers, most of them family, assist 7.7 million older adults. Of those, 6.5 million caregivers provide substantial help with health care, 4.4 million provide some help and 3.8 million provide no help.

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