Sally was 56 when she first decided to invite her dad to live with her. He was 80 years old and had been suffering with a slight form of dementia for a few years. Recently, his episodes had gotten worse and she decided that the time had come where she simply could not leave him on his own.
Because she was an only child, most of the burden of care fell on her. And while she was happy to do it, it was more challenging than she could have ever realized. Her already busy life was suddenly filled with even more responsibilities: helping him with his daily activities, accompanying him to doctor’s appointments, researching medical needs and performing tasks that were new to her. It didn't take long to reach the point where her career was suffering. While her boss was understanding, she had to reduce her hours just to be available to her father when he needed her. The financial strain was as great as the emotional one.
Sally’s issues aren't unique. So many who find themselves in a caregiver role are forced to make the same sacrifices, and the stresses can be overwhelming. And now that our population is aging quickly, these issues are only going to increase.
The AARP estimates that by 2050 there will be only 3 potential caregivers for every person aged 80 and above. That’s a drastic difference from today’s 7-to-1 ratio.
Why the sharp decline? In just 10 years, the oldest of the Baby Boomer generation will be slipping into their 80’s, and with them, the need for additional care. Unfortunately, with the population expected to grow at just a 1% pace over the next several years, the caregiver ratio simply won’t be able to keep up. The AARP estimates that over the next several years we’ll see a steady decline in the ratio of caregivers to older adults, with the sharpest decline happening as the Baby Boomers reach their 80’s.
What are the implications here? In the coming years, caregivers will need more support than ever before. The greater number of caregivers will create an increased need for nationwide Long Term Services and Support. And workplace policies will need to accommodate flexible work schedules to allow caregivers the extra time they so desperately need. In addition, care for the caregivers themselves will need to be addressed to ensure that they have the tools to take care of themselves, as well as their loved ones. Things such as providing extra funding or tax credits to caregivers, creating more resources for caregivers to ensure they have the tools and skills needed to care for their loved ones, adjusting FMLA laws to allow for greater workplace flexibility and time off, and making adjustments to medicare and medicaid to cover caregiver coordination services are just a few of the things that can be done to avert this growing crisis. Putting these types of resources and policies in place is crucial in the coming years if we want to support the caregiving community and our growing, older population.