November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to honor the more than 65 million caregivers in the United States. These unsung heroes provide unconditional care for chronically ill, disabled or aging family members or friends. And statistics show these numbers will increase. According to the September Journal of the American Medical Association, with the baby boomer generation aging, more than 70 million adults will join Medicare by 2030 and will want to receive care at home.
The graying of America is often referred to as the “silver tsunami,” and the number of Baby Boomers aging will continue to increase putting an increased level of responsibility on family members. Family caregivers are essentially caring for members of their family around the clock. As the number of people needing care increases, so will the caregivers’ stress and fatigue levels.
“The true strength of the American family finds its roots in an unwavering commitment to care for one another,” said President Barack Obama in his declaration of Family Caregivers Month. As someone who has personally experienced being a caregiver for a loved one, those words ring particularly true to me. It was the experience of being caregiver to my own mother in her final 18 years that inspired my family to provide home care services to others.
AARP recently reported that the majority of long-term services are provided by family members. They cite in their report that they are concerned that the supply of family caregivers is unlikely to keep pace with the future demands. Their report defines a “caregiver support ratio” as the number of potential caregivers aged 45-64 for each person aged 80 or older. The report uses this support ratio to estimate the availability of family caregivers during the next few decades. In 2010, the caregiver support ratio was more than seven potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk years of 80-plus. By 2030, the ratio is projected to decline sharply to 4 to 1; and it is expected to further fall to less than 3 to 1 in 2050, when all boomers will be in the high-risk years of late life.
According to John W. Rowe, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University and a former Gerontological Society of America president, the combination of aging baby boomers and the increase in life expectancy is going to lead to a doubling of the 65-and-over population by 2050. Much of the responsibility accompanying that unprecedented growth will be placed on the friends and families of the aging population.
(Reprinted from October 31, 2013 Jewish News)