Spotlight on Caregivers

U.S. longevity trends are thrusting more women into caregiving roles. NPWH recently led discussions at two national summits on women’s health spotlighting how women’s health advocates must be and are increasingly focused on the roles and needs of women caregivers. For too long, caregiving has been a social and health challenge in the shadows, but as more of us age and take on the role of caregiver, there are many things to know.

Diana Drake, DNP, MSN, APRN, WHNP-BC, reflects on these efforts to put caregiving needs front and center, and shares caregiving trends health care providers should know.

Did you know? The numbers tell us we need many hands on deck and thoughtful planning.

  • The U.S. 65-and-older population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, ballooning from 48 million, to 88 million by 2050.
  • The nation’s first wave of Baby Boomers will turn 85 twelve years from now in 2030.
  • 85 –year olds are twice as likely as 75-year-olds to need help getting through the day.
  • Increased longevity has already resulted in more than 34 million “informal” caregivers to support our aging population.
  • Family caregivers have been described as America’s other Social Security. The nation’s healthcare system would go broke if it had to pay for their work, valued at $470 billion a year in free care.2

Who are these caregivers? Many of them are our patients

  • The average caregiver is female, 49 years old and providing care for her mother that is the equivalent of a part-time job.2
  • Compared with other demographic groups, women, along with low-income workers and minorities, are more likely to reduce their work hours or leave the workforce because of their caregiving role.2
  • Female caregivers are less likely than male caregivers to see health care providers for their own preventive healthcare needs.
  • Female caregivers face increased risks for::
    • Depression and anxiety
    • A weak immune system
    • Obesity
    • Chronic disease (including heart disease)
    • Problems with short-term memory or paying attention

NPWH is pushing the issue front and center.

Through our leadership role in two coalitions, NPWH is helping drive national conversations around caregiving to increase awareness of, and support for, the female caregiver.

Coalition for Women’s Health Equity

More than three hundred women from across the country met in Washington, DC, for the Women’s Health Empowerment Summit, hosted in May by the Coalition for Women’s Health Equity.3 The summit spotlighted actions to address inequities that endanger women’s health and safety. As a member of the steering committee, NPWH helped organize a panel on Caregiving Across the Lifespan. Panel members explored the burdens and opportunities of caregiving and considered legislation to require the government to develop strategies that recognize and support family caregivers.

As a panel member, I was honored to speak as both a nurse practitioner who provides healthcare to many caregivers, and also as the daughter of two 96-year-old parents living in partially assisted care. I spoke directly to the impact of the female caregiver and the invisibility of the issue. With the profound impact that being a caregiver has on these women’s health, I also addressed the need for all health care providers to determine the caregiver status of their patients. The panel encouraged all caregivers in the room to lead by example, and to discuss their caregiver roles with their HCPs at health visits.

Healthy at Any Age Coalition

At NPWH’s second Healthy at Any Age Summit, we laid the groundwork for a coalition and began outlining the National Older Women’s Health Agenda. This agenda must include women caregivers and the adverse impact of long-term neglect of their own health.4 As we unite diverse sectors, share resources, and create strategies to advance the health and well-being of older women, NPWH will continue to draw attention to the vital role of caregivers and how to best meet their needs.

More conversations about caregiving must happen in living rooms, communities, government offices – and exam rooms. Let us know how you approach your patients to assess how caregiving may be impacting their physical health and psychological well-being.

Diana M. Drake is Clinical Associate Professor and Specialty Coordinator of the DNP WHNP Program at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing and Program Director for Integrative Women’s Health at the Women’s Health Specialists Clinic, both in Minneapolis. She is Chair of the NPWH Policy Committee and Chair Elect of the NPWH Board of Directors.


  1. United States Census Bureau. U.S. Population Aging Slower than Other Countries, Census Bureau Reports. March 28, 2016. gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-54.html
  2. AARP Public Policy Institute. Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work. October 2012. org/content/dam/aarp/research/public_policy_institute/ltc/2012/understanding-impact-family-caregiving-work-AARP-ppi-ltc.pdf
  3. Coalition for Women’s Health Equity website. org/advocate/coalition-for-womens-health.html
  4. American Heart Association. Caregivers: Be Realistic, Think Positive. Last reviewed June 2017. org/HEARTORG/Support/Caregivers-Be-Realistic-Think-Positive_UCM_301771_Article.jsp#.WzlnWi2ZNhE

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