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Is America Running Out of Family Caregivers?

Sherry Christiansen
By Sherry ChristiansenOctober 10, 2018

Family members have always been a reliable resource in caring for a parent or senior loved one in the home. Much of that has changed in recent years, however, due to changing family dynamics and the growing geographic space between families.

This trend may represent the future of what lies ahead for many seniors in America. Learn more about how to plan for aging without family caregivers.

Family Caregivers in the United States

It’s estimated that 34.2 million people provide unpaid care for a person aged 50 or older in the U.S. today.

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Around 95% of unpaid caregivers are family members — who are considered to be “the backbone of the nation’s long-term care system,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

In fact, family caregivers provide approximately $500 billion per year in unpaid care, which is three times the amount that Medicaid spends for professionals to provide long-term care services, as a 2017 study conducted by Merrill Lynch reports.

Why the Number of Family Caregivers Is Shrinking

Every day, 10,000 people turn 65 in the U.S. and by the year 2020, there will be 56 million Americans who are age 65 or older. As the number of seniors in need of caregiving continues to rise, the supply of family caregivers continues to shrink.

A recent Merrill Lynch study found that:

  1. In 2010 there were 4.8 caregivers per person, but by 2030, there will be only 2.8 caregivers per person.
  2. The number of Americans (65 and older) is anticipated to rise from around 48 million today to 88 million in 2050.
  3. The supply of caregivers will decrease by nearly 50% by the year 2050.

The primary reason for the declining ratio of caregivers to care recipients is due to changing family dynamics.

“Families have fewer children, older adults are more likely to have never married or to be divorced and adult children often live far from their parents or may be caring for more than one adult or their own children,” noted a 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences.

When to Turn to Professional Caregiving Services

Many seniors will need professional home health care and private caregiving services as the demand for skilled care is expected to far exceed the supply — by more than 3 million in the next 10 years.

Seniors can learn more about private caregiving services from these resources:

Ken Dychtwald, CEO of a consulting firm called Age Wave, says that in addition to professional and private caregiving services, innovative new solutions like electronic monitoring devices and home and meal delivery services may also need to be implemented in the future.

Are you worried about the shortage of family caregivers in the U.S.? How will you and your family cope? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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