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Caregivers need respite

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Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell

“I was tired, but it was a different kind of tired. This kind of tired comes from day after day of constant caregiving with no end in sight – with no hope and no one to care. Respite allowed me to be with people who care and realize that some people understand what caregivers are going through.”
Like this elderly gentleman, who is a caregiver for his wife living with Alzheimer’s disease, you may have a similar story. In fact, you will be surprised to learn that this may be a typical response from any one of the more than 770,000 caregivers in South Carolina.
Respite is defined as regular, temporary breaks for caregivers of people with a disability, special need or chronic illness. It is an essential service that provides caregivers with the relief necessary to maintain their own physical and emotional health, thereby allowing families to successfully continue caring for their family member in the home. In addition to keeping the family unit together, respite benefits our taxpayers as well.
By improving relationships and stability, respite helps families delay and, in many cases, avoid costly hospitalization or facility care. In South Carolina alone, it is estimated that more than 737 million hours of unpaid care are provided each year. The estimated economic value of this unpaid care to South Carolina is more than $7.4 billion annually.
If caregivers did not provide this unpaid care, most families would have to put their loved one in a facility. If these families did not have the ability to privately pay for a nursing home bed, their loved one would most likely qualify for a Medicaid nursing bed, which costs state taxpayers, on average, around $52,000 per year. In contrast, as little as four hours of respite per week has been shown to make a significant difference in the lives of caregivers. At an average cost of $17 per hour, the cost for a year’s respite would be less than $3,600 per year per family.
As our population continues to expand and age, these numbers will only increase. Our senior population alone is expected to double from current estimates of more than 900,000 to 2 million within the next 15 years. Furthermore, from 2000 to 2010, the number of people known to have Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the state increased by 19 percent. By 2015, it is expected that new cases will increase by another 49 percent.
Caregivers fill a void that our state’s system of care cannot yet accommodate, and it is essential that family caregivers across our state are able to access the respite services they need to have the strength to care for their loved ones. Caregivers may not realize the importance of or feel guilty about “taking a break” and they often underestimate the impact that caregiving can have on their own health. The respite program has been shown to improve family functioning, improve satisfaction with life, enhance the capacity to cope with stress, and improve attitudes toward the family member needing care.Question of  the Week:
Q:) How can respite vouchers help me?
A:) Respite vouchers allow family caregivers to rest from the demanding routines associated with caregiving. Having the option available to get away for a few hours or a few days provides these caregivers with a chance to recharge. For more information on respite programs available in your area, please contact:
- The S.C. Respite Coalition, 1 (866) 345-6786
- The Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging, 1 (866) 868-9095
- Family Connection of South Carolina Inc. at 1 (800) 578-8750
For details, contact the S.C. Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging, (803) 734-9900 or (800) 868-9095 or visit www.aging.sc.gov.

Glenn McConnell is the lieutenant governor for South Carolina.