$5 Billion in health care costs saved taxpayer

December 21, 1999

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada --University of Alberta researchers have found that non-paid caregivers of the elderly are saving Canada's health care system more than $5 billion annually. The research found that taxpayers would have to pay 276,509 full-time employees to do the work of the 2.1 million people now providing the service.

The study by UofA human ecology professors Janet Fast and Norah Keating along with Statistics Canada, are calling the findings a wake-up call for governments who now have about 15 years to plan for the needs of the growing senior population that will peak as baby boomers age and retire.

The study found that although these caregivers save the taxpayer a lot of money, they pay a harsh price and run a greater risk of becoming frail, isolated and poor seniors themselves. The researchers feel that the provincial and federal government should act now to stem the rising financial and psychological burden placed on caregivers of the elderly.

The study points out that there are obvious ways of reimbursing caregivers and, at the same time, helping the elderly. More and better home care should be provided, more residential care facilities set up, and more support services should exist for caregivers. This, state the researchers, will go a long way toward reducing informal caregivers' costs and compensating them for the $5 billion worth of services they provide every year.

The authors of the study believe that government has morally and financially "passed the buck" of taking care of the elderly almost exclusively onto the shoulders of the family and spouse. Drs. Norah Keating and Janet Fast point out that what we really have is an informal system poorly supported by formal care services. Poorly supported because informal caregivers report that their care-giving activities affect their sleep patterns, their physical and mental health, their social lives and their employment.

The researchers state that this situation has developed because of government's fear of the budget implications of meeting the needs of a growing senior population. It has forced policymakers to look increasingly to family and friends to meet those needs. As the study shows, this is occurring despite clear evidence that informal caregivers already provide 80% or more of support to seniors.

The University of Alberta in Edmonton is one of Canada's premier teaching and research universities serving more than 29,000 students with 6,000 faculty and staff. It continues to lead the country with the most 3M Teaching Fellows, Canada's only national award recognizing teaching excellence, and with the most Academic All-Canadians, students who successfully combine academics with varsity athletics.
For more information, please contact:

Melanie Pannack
Office of Public Affairs, University of Alberta

University of Alberta

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