It’s a phenomena that’s been dubbed the “new normal” by bestselling author Gail Sheehy and analysts at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “It” refers to the often-overwhelming challenges–physical, financial, emotional–borne by caregivers for their elderly loved ones needing care.
In fact, a new report by AARP predicts that the ratio of caregivers to those who need care will fall dramatically in the years to come. With the graying of the Baby Boomer generation—the first boomers turned 65 in 2011 and will turn 65 at a rate of 8,000 a day for the next 18 years—today’s ratio of seven caregivers to each person over 80 will drop to fewer than three caregivers for each 80-year-old. The report calculates the availability of caregivers by dividing the number of people in the most common caregiving age range (those ages 45-64) by the number of older people most at risk of needing long term services and supports (those ages 80+).
“More than two-thirds of Americans believe they will be able to rely on their families to meet their needs when they need long term care,” said Lynn Feinberg, AARP senior policy analyst and one of the report’s authors, “but this confidence is likely to deflate when it collides with the dramatically shrinking availability of family caregivers in the future.”
“As the number of people over the age of 80 increases in the next 20 years, the number of people in the primary caregiving years will remain flat.”
“As the number of people over the age of 80 increases in the next 20 years, the number of people in the primary caregiving years will remain flat,” the report states. Meanwhile, in 2050, there will be three times as many people age 80 and older as there are today. As a result, by 2050, the caregiver support ratio which was 7.2 in 2010 when Boomers were in their peak caregiving years, is projected to drop to 2.9 percent when the boomers will have reached their eighties. According to the report, “In just 13 years, as the Baby Boomers age into their 80’s, the decline in the caregiver support ratio will shift from a slow decline to a free fall.”
The caregiver support ratio in each of the 50 states and District of Columbia is also expected to experience declines similar to the national trend. “Rapidly increasing numbers of people in advanced old age and shrinking families to provide support to them demands new solutions to financing and delivering long term services and supports,” said Feinberg.
“The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap” calculates the availability of caregivers by dividing the number of people in the most common caregiving age range (those ages 45-64) by the number of older people most at risk of needing long term services and supports (those ages 80+). The former group reflects the demographics of today’s average caregivers, the latter is the population likely to have some kind of disability and need help with daily activities.
Affordable Care Act Recognizes Needs of Caregivers
The news isn’t all dour; as the report points out, the Affordable Care Act, which kicks off this October with an open enrollment period, contains three key provisions intended to support individuals and their caregivers. In fact, the ACA mentions the term “caregiver” 46 times and “family caregiver” 11 times:
- The law includes individuals and their caregivers as decision makers about care options, and it recognizes the need to address the caregiver’s own experience of care in assessments and quality improvement of services.
- The law promotes new models of care that identify the family caregiver as a key partner.
- The law advances efforts to better prepare family caregivers to perform their care tasks. Last, it enhances opportunities to expand home and community-based services (HCBS) and provide better support to caregiving families.
In addition to advocacy efforts and community outreach, AARP is responding with a wide variety of online resources for caregivers, some of which include the following:
For more information for caregivers, visit the AARP Caregiving Resource Center. Read the complete AARP report (pdf): The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers.”