If you haven’t yet seen it, the latest Pew Research report Family Caregivers are Wired for Health, by Susannah Fox, Maeve Duggan, Kristen Purcell, dated June 20, 2013 is a virtual treasure trove of information for leaders of disability ministry. The report most notably sites the staggering 9% increase in number of adults caregiving (without financial compensation) for an adult loved one in the past 3 years. This increase has been largely attributed to the aging of the population. Meanwhile, those caregiving for a child under 18 in the past 3 years increased from 5% of respondents in 2010 to 8% of respondents in 2013. It is worth pointing out that the statistical increase in number of school-aged children diagnosed with Autism has been revised twice in the past year, with figures far exceeding this increase in number of caregivers noted in this study for those under the age of 18.
In addition to showing that the number of family caregivers has increased, Pew also demonstrates that those caregivers are educating themselves about their loved ones diagnoses in greater measure via the internet. The information being sought was broken down into the following topics: specific disease or medical problem, specific treatment or procedure, controlling the caregiver’s own weight or losing weight, health insurance coverage, food safety or recalls, drug safety or recalls, caring for an aging relative or friend, advertised drug, medical test results, reducing health care costs, pregnancy/childbirth, other. Of the respondents, 84% said that they had pursued information on at least one of those topics. Of course, the younger the age group of caregiver, the more likely the internet is to be used for help. One third of the respondents used smart phones to uncover answers and resources.
Other interesting insights were revealed when Pew asked about caregivers’ personal health status. There is a notable decrease in health for those serving as family caregiver. Significant change to personal health over the previous 12 months was 6% higher for those tending to a loved one. The research poll also demonstrates a higher level of diabetes, cancer, asthma or other lung conditions, and other chronic health conditions experienced by caregivers. The individuals providing care to for a loved one were also more likely to experience a medical emergency or be hospitalized themselves.
What Might The Data Mean To The Church
Once again we find in our hands statistics that show an increasing percentage of the population living with disability under their own roof. As churches continue to ignore this growing segment of society, the breadth of their reach shrinks. Christian community needs to understand the caregivers’ point of view that when they exclude those we love, they exclude us.
Additionally, this study demonstrates practical ways that can be offered to show people the love of Christ. Every congregation has members who would be capable of watching an individual with special needs for an hour or two each week, so the caregiver could get a break with exercise, relaxation or other self-care. Connecting those providing family care to the disabled with the much-needed resources they require for effective daily living is another practical help. A resource fair held at a church might be one incredibly useful tool for these families.
Finally, the report ought to continue to wake the church up to the necessity of connecting families facing special needs and disabilities by using tools on the worldwide web. If caregivers are seeking out health information on the web, might it not be likely they are searching out faith matters there as well? What about virtual worship when they can’t get to church with or because of a loved one? Since one third are accessing resources via smart phones, might app development be a wise pursuit?
I encourage you to read the report for yourself and explore what questions or ideas it might evoke.