With Americans living longer than ever before, many of us will eventually require long-term care. It has been estimated that at least 70 percent of people over the age of 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives.
When most people think about long-term care, and who provides it, nursing homes and assisted living facilities come to mind. However, the vast majority of long-term care in the U.S. is provided by family members. In fact, eighty percent of those receiving care obtain the care they need at home, from children, siblings and other members of the family. A recent study by the AARP suggests that this system will be undermined in the future by demographic changes.
Baby Boomers are now in their fifties and sixties, and many of them provide care for aging parents. Boomers in their 50s frequently take time off from work to care for their parents, while Boomers in their 60s often spend the early years of their retirement providing such care.
The good news is that there are currently plenty of Boomers available to serve as caregivers. In 2010, there were more than seven potential caregivers for every American aged 80 or above. The bad news is that this will change dramatically in the coming decades. By 2030, the number of caregivers available for every person over 80 years of age will drop to four. By the year 2050, it is estimated that this number will drop to three. As Boomers grow older and eventually require care themselves, who will provide it? And what does the future look like for the generation that follows?
Other demographic factors will impact the available pool of family caregivers as well. These include the high divorce rate, the percentage of women who work outside the home, and the tendency for young adults to relocate far from where their parents live in search of better opportunities for employment.
What does this mean for the future of family care giving? The AARP Public Policy Institute invited 10 authors who have written about the challenges of family care giving to participate in a forum about this issue. In their remarks and written work, the authors emphasized that addressing the challenges of family care giving requires both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Specifically, they called for public policies and community efforts to promote greater public education and awareness; provide more financial relief; support better communication, coordination, and collaboration with health care professionals; and increased recognition and support for family caregivers in policy initiatives.
The forum members also noted that family caregivers frequently feel alone and isolated by the many responsibilities involved in care giving. Caregivers who feel isolated may experience high levels of stress, thereby jeopardizing their own health. They may also not recognize that as family caregivers, it is essential for them to take care of themselves in order to provide adequate care. The forum members agreed that health care professionals and public policy makers must do more to help family caregivers find the assistance and support they need.
All of this underscores the importance of planning ahead for the possibility of requiring long-term care. We welcome the opportunity to work with you to create a long-term care plan that’s right for you and your family.