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The unpaid cost of long-term care

Family members, especially spouses, are providing an awful lot of end-of-life care right now, with little or no support, per Health Affairs.

By the numbers: Nearly 15 million Americans act as unpaid caregivers for older patients, often family — and spouses, especially, often have to go it alone.

  • 55% of spouses who are married to someone with a disability and who’s not living in a nursing home serve as solo caregivers, according to the Health Affairs study.
  • Among those who had help, most got it from their children, rather than trained professionals.
  • Looking after an older family member is a full-time job — solo caregivers averaged more than 40 hours a week.

Where it stands: "Solo caregiving was also common among spouses of people with dementia in the last years of life, despite the fact that dementia caregiving poses unique difficulties … especially toward the end of life," the authors write.

Silver lining: Among people whose spouse had recently died, people who had been solo caregivers at the end of their spouse's life were no more prone to depression than people who had help.

Go deeper: The unofficial health care system