Family caregivers have become the backbone of long-term care services. But as the average life expectancy in developed countries rises by 2-3 years every ten calendar years, whereas the Total Fertility Rate has been halved in 60 years, we won’t have the capacity to meet the demand for caregivers. We are heading toward the “caregiving cliff” as the number of older individuals needing care will greatly exceeds the supply of caregivers.
About 4 in 10 American adults identified themselves as a family caregiver according to the Pew Research Center. Caregiving is usually defined as care for a relative or friend to help them take care of themselves, from personal needs and household chores, to personal finances, social visits and rides to practicians. About 80% of care at home is provided by informal unpaid caregivers. Unpaid family caregiving is valued at $450 billion a year by AARP. Note that a large majority provide care for a relative (85%), with 49% caring for a parent or parent-in-law, and 10% for a spouse.
The impact is economic but also psychological and societal. A majority of caregivers (60%) are female and if 60% of caregivers were employed at some point during the year, almost all of them reported having to make “workplace adjustments” (cutting back on working hours, taking a leave of absence…) as a result of caregiving. Caregivers work an average of 18 hours a week providing care, even while the majority (60 percent) of family caregivers have full- or part-time jobs (based on 2014 data).
Family caregiving today is more complex, costly, stressful and demanding than ever before, as the AARP report underlines. 55% of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs, especially when the person cared for has dementia. 38% report a moderate (20%) to high degree (18%) of financial strain as a result of providing care. Furthermore, 22% of young adults (ages 16 to 25) who drop out of high school for personal reasons did so to care for a family member, according to public policy firm Civic Enterprises.
As alarming as the upcoming caregiving cliff and the consequences of caregiving on one’s work and personal life, is the fact that family members are not always equipped to provide the care needed, lacking training, support and even supplies. More than half of all caregivers have been called on to perform medical and nursing tasks related to complex chronic conditions, such as multiple medications, wound care, injections, intravenous therapy, incontinence support, and more.
It is time for us as a society to rethink the future of caregiving and start designing the course of actions we want to happen!