Are you ready for the great family caregiver shortage?
The number of potential caregivers available for every person who is at least 80 years old is expected to plummet by 2030 as the older population outpaces the number of younger Americans, according to new research by AARP, the Washington advocacy group for older adults.
That means fewer people will be available to take care of elderly relatives, adding to the pressure on younger family members.
“There are going to be enormous increases in the stress level on those caregivers with less backup and more complications, including higher rates of divorce, in boomer families,” says Don Redfoot, a senior strategic-policy adviser at AARP.
The ratio of people in the most common caregiving age group (45 to 64) to those most likely to need long-term care (80 and over) is expected to fall to 4 to 1 by 2030—compared with more than 7 to 1 in 2010, AARP says.
By 2050, the ratio could drop to less than 3 to 1.
Families are increasingly doing the hard work themselves. Institutional use of long-term care fell by 37% from 1984 to 2004, while the number of older people living on their own or in assisted-living facilities who needed help with two or more daily living activities climbed by two-thirds, according to AARP.
One study funded by the Scan Foundation, a Long Beach, Calif., nonprofit focused on long-term care for older adults, found that more than two-thirds of Americans who are 40 or older expect to rely on their families to help meet their needs.
Family caregivers provided unpaid contributions valued at about $450 billion in unpaid care as of 2009, up from $375 billion in 2007, according to AARP. While that can mean great savings for families, it can come at a big cost.
Informal caregivers find competing demands between caring for loved ones and work. And often they end up cutting back themselves to help make ends meet.
The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works while also spending about 20 hours a week providing unpaid care to her mother for nearly five years, according to AARP.
Caregivers spend $8,080 a year on average on out-of-pocket expenses, with one-third providing 30 or more hours of care each week, according to recent research from Genworth Financial, a large long-term-care insurer.
Just over half of caregivers cut discretionary spending, such as dining out, to help cover those expenses. Almost one-third of care recipients cut back on more basic needs, such as groceries.
How can families brace themselves for a future with a dearth of free labor among themselves? Here are some strategies.
Take a break. To avoid burnout, families are paying for a breather. Some assisted-living and skilled-nursing facilities offer respite-care programs, through which older adults who are cared for at home can check in for a weekend or longer when a family caregiver needs to leave town.
It is an option that can help a family delay having to use a more expensive assisted-living facility. Adult day-care programs can spot caregivers for a few hours as well.
Social-service agencies, nonprofit groups and long-term-care providers can help families find respite programs, which are available nationwide. A good starting place is the Eldercare Locator, a federal-government service (eldercare.gov; 800-677-1116 ).
Hire a pro. Geriatric-care managers, typically social workers or registered nurses by training, can help you assess your loved one’s needs and arrange in-home or facility care, among other services. They also frequently referee conflicts among siblings weighing options for their parents.
There is a directory, along with a list of questions to ask when hiring someone, at www.caremanager.org, the website of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.
Use life insurance. In most cases, owners of life-insurance policies can sell them to life-settlement firms to pay for long-term care. Some adult children caring for their parents are helping their parents cash in to help pay for their care now instead of receiving an inheritance later.
Chris Orestis, chief executive of Life Care Funding in Portland, Maine, frequently works with families of middle-class policyholders with term coverage worth $100,000 on average, he says. The amount they could receive would depend on the policyholder’s age and health status.
Of course, the firm buying the policy keeps a sizable chunk of its value. But a few state lawmakers who have introduced laws to publicize the option have pointed out that it beats surrendering a policy to access government benefits while also giving families more control over how to spend the money.
Check in with the boss. Many large companies offer free information and referral services for caregivers, and some provide caregiving coaches. If your job comes with an employee-assistance program, start there.
Tap a line-of-duty perk. Wartime veterans who served at least 90 days of active military service may qualify for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ aid-and-attendance benefit. It helps pay for long-term care for veterans and their spouses if they meet certain thresholds for medical and financial need.
To find local help to apply, go to www.va.gov. Next, click on “Locations,” then “State Veteran Affairs offices,” “Veterans Service Organizations” or “Regional Benefits Offices.”