The average caregiver in Salt Lake County is a white female between the ages of 50 and 69, has been providing care for at least three years and is more likely to be working full time than retired. She cares for a parent. She provides love and friendship, shopping, cooking, feeding, transportation, house cleaning and laundry.
And according to a county Aging Services survey of caregivers analyzed and announced this month, she probably provides at least 10 hours of care per week, but maybe as much as 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
If she were just four years older, Taylorsville resident Nancy Hedin would perfectly fit that profile.
This past week, Hedin sat with her 6-year-old twins, Logan and Shelby, in the cafeteria at Intermountain Medical Center "My home away from home," she says trying to have a bite of lunch at 4:30 p.m. while her 68-year-old mother had intravenous antibiotic therapy for an infection that followed a 2008 kidney transplant.
Hedin gets off work at 3 p.m., picks up the kids at school, then picks up her mother from the apartment in the Hedins' basement before heading for the hospital. She and the twins get home around 7:30 p.m. to have dinner with her husband and 10-year-old son, after which everyone has to do homework, night chores, take baths and get ready for the next day, and the next and the next.
"We eat out a lot, which hasn't done anything for my waistline," she says.
Since her father died two years ago and she had to return to full-time work while also taking care of her mother, she's put on about 50 pounds. Weight gain and attendant health problems are rampant among caregivers, advocates say, and in some cases life-threatening.
This routine, with some variation, has been going on since before the twins were born, when Hedin was taking care of her father. Her mother had a liver transplant in 2006. The twins, due on the surgery date, had instead arrived five weeks prematurely, landing in the neonatal intensive care unit.
In 2007, Hedin's mother had heart-valve surgery at LDS Hospital. Her father, who had multiple illnesses, was in the hospital's emergency room when her mother had a post-surgery heart attack. "That's what killed her kidneys," and led to the 2008 transplant, Hedin says.
"The stress level," she says, "is through the roof."
That's the norm for the county's caregivers, too, the survey shows, something Salt Lake County Aging Services was aware of before collecting information from 1,000 participants.
One surprise, though, was how many of those respondents knew nothing about Aging Services or the help they could receive, says Kathy Nelson, the agency's chief of caregiver support training.
Another surprise: "It didn't matter what ages our caregivers were, the top five education needs were all the same," Nelson says. And they want it online, but not via Facebook, Twitter or other social media.
With that in mind, Nelson is developing the Salt Lake County Caregiver Academy, a cooperative effort by health-care providers, partner organizations, community groups, and other aging and caregiving associations to provide free classes and online instruction tailored to the needs of caregivers who live in the county. It is set to launch in July.
"We're designing it according to what [survey respondents] told us they wanted," she said.
The 33-page survey, which was available both online and on paper, probed all aspects of caregivers' lives but didn't try to quantify the value of their overwhelmingly unpaid work.
However, the AARP Public Policy Institute recently looked at the state as a whole in its report, "Valuing the Invaluable," and found that in 2009, the 559,000 Utahns who at any given time were caregivers spent 365 million hours in that service. At $11.37 per hour, AARP estimated, that work was worth $4.2 million in costs avoided by the nation's health-care system and long-term services.
The economic value of caregiving, AARP concluded, exceeded total Medicaid long-term services and support in every state.
Greeting her mother after her IV therapy, Hedin said she was grateful her family was doing so well.
"We do what we can do," she said. "That's all we can do."
Salt Lake County survey measures caregivers' needs
In 2011, Salt Lake County Aging Services surveyed 1,000 county residents to find out if the agency's training and resources were meeting the needs of caregivers of all ages. The 33-page survey, offered in English and Spanish, analyzed their responses.
The top five requests for services •
Help locating services and resources
Home health care
Chore assistance or heavy housekeeping
Care management tips
The top five request for education •
How to find resources and services
How to navigate family dynamics
How to hire in-home care
Help in Davis County
In April and May, the Davis County Health Department's Family Caregiver Support Program is offering a free six-week series of classes. Caregivers may attend at any time. For details, contact Megan Forbush at 801-525-5088.