Connecticut residents spent 465 million hours serving as unpaid caregivers in 2009, providing care to family members that would have cost $5.8 billion if it had to be provided by paid workers, according to estimates in a report released Monday.

The report, “Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving, 2011 Update,” by AARP’s Public Policy Institute, offers a snapshot of the responsibilities and challenges of unpaid family caregivers, considered by many to be a critical part of the nation’s long-term care system. Nationwide, the report found, 61.6 million people provided unpaid care to family members at some point in 2009. The economic value of it was $450 billion, the report found.

In Connecticut, 486,000 people served as unpaid family caregivers at any given time in 2009, and 711,000 people did at some point during the year, according to the report.

The report took into account the number of people providing care, the number of hours of care, and the hourly cost of a paid caregiver. The 2009 figure was up $75 billion from a 2007 estimate, more than half of which was the result of an increase in family caregivers and the hours of care they provided.

Several trends suggest that families will face even greater strain in the future, the report noted. More Americans live longer with multiple chronic health conditions, and many adults live in communities rather than institutions as they age. In addition, delayed childbirth, high divorce rates and smaller family size leave fewer people in a family to take on the burden of care, and the percentage of older women who don’t have children has nearly doubled since the 1970s.

Many caregivers are already experiencing the effects of changes in health care such as shorter hospital stays, limited hospital discharge planning and the increase in home-based medical technologies, which leave caregivers to handle complex and demanding tasks–including bandaging wounds, tube feeding and managing catheters–that they often do not have training for.

In addition, 69 percent of caregivers reported that they make work accommodations, such as cutting back on work hours, changing jobs, or stopping work, because of caregiving, the report said.

It found that the “average” caregiver in the country is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week providing care for her mother for nearly five years.

The report did not include caregivers or recipients under 18 or those who provide assistance to adults but do not help with any activities like bathing, dressing or managing medications or finance.

The report included several recommendations, including expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to protect more workers for longer periods and allow it to cover all primary caregivers, regardless of family relationship; providing paid leave for caregivers; providing financial assistance for caregivers to help cope with lost wages, lower retirement benefits and higher medical expenses; and protecting or improving the Social Security benefits for family caregivers who leave the workforce for caregiving responsibilities.

The report also recommended providing adequate funding for respite programs that give caregivers a break. In Connecticut, funding for all nine respite centers operated by the Department of Developmental Services was eliminated as part of a $1.6 billion budget-cutting plan released last week. Last fiscal year, an estimated 800 families used the centers, which provide breaks for families who care for people with disabilities. Benjamin Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director, describe the cut as “very troubling” but difficult to avoid.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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