A Looming Shortage of Caregivers

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care giving, caregiver, caregivers, baby boomers

Credit: Brian Walker

AARP data indicates that  the country will not have enough caregivers, be they men or women, to care for the anticipated numbers of Baby Boomers who will need care over the next 20 years.  While some elders may be able to “get along” without care giver support, those with Alzheimer’s cannot do without help.  Thus, a care giver shortage, will have profound effects on those with Alzheimer’s.

Shrinking Work Force Numbers

The AARP reports that today there are 7 people of care giving age (45 – 64) to care for each person over the age of 80.  By 2030, there will be only 4 people of care giving age for each person over 80.  This growing shortage is attributed to the confluence of several demographic trends:

  • People are living longer and therefore, there will be record numbers of people over the age of 80.
  • Boomers, on average, had fewer children than the past generation.

Additional Trends that will Limit Availability of Caregivers

Life style and economic necessity will impact the availability of family members to provide care.   It is expected that many more women will be working in full time jobs and will not be able to assume the traditional role of caregiver for their extended families.  The mobility of today’s work force further reduces the number of adult children who are able to provide hands-on help to their parents.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists personal care and home health workers among the top growing jobs through 2022, the jobs as currently structured are among the lowest paying, typically offer few benefits, and do not provide growth opportunities.  As the number of workers in the United States shrink, it may become more difficult to fill these jobs.

Thinking Outside the Box

Happily, there is time to design new systems of caring for our families before we reach this crisis.  The solutions will have to be bold and will require us to adopt new approaches to caring.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Pay family caregivers for their work.
  • Develop new sources of caregivers, such as young graduates looking for student loan forgiveness, and retirees who are looking for engagement.
  • Create a career pathway for care givers so that these positions hold the potential for advancement in the health care system.
  • Build housing stock that is fully accessible to enable elders to remain safely in their homes for longer periods of time.
  • Install technology systems in elders’ homes to enable remote medical and well-being monitoring.  These systems should be able to track vital signs, glucose levels, adherence to medication schedules, eating and personal care patterns, as well as falls and comings and goings from the home.
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