Will there be enough family caregivers to provide loving care to all those seniors who will be needing help by 2050?
That was the question that the Pew Research Institute asked recently in their report Family Support in Graying Societies and the answers are pretty interesting.
Because the numbers of people who will be over 65 by the year 2050 are expected to double, the implications for not just caregiving but economics, Social Security and the healthcare industry are wide reaching.
How will all sectors handle the ever increasing population of older adults especially if family caregivers are at a distance or non-existent?
Many older adults chose not to have children in order to pursue careers and some may have lost their children throughout their lifetime and are now aging without a family support network to care for them as they age.
According to an August 2013 report from AARP:
- 6% of women ages 80 to 84 were childless in 2010
- By 2030, women aged 80 to 84 who are childless will be 16%
- In 2010, the caregiver support ratio was more than seven potential caregivers for every person over 80 years old
- By 2030, the caregiver support ratio is projected to decline to four to one
- By 2050, the caregiver support ratio is expected to fall to three to one
A new term has been coined to describe unmarried, childless older adults – elder orphans.
It is estimated nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are currently elder orphans or at risk of becoming them. They are considered a vulnerable group requiring greater awareness and advocacy efforts because there may be few if any options for them as they need more help.
Finding surrogates to act on behalf of elder orphans could be difficult.
Perhaps the definition of a family caregiver will need to shift from the traditional model of children caring for parents to nieces and nephews, cousins and other appointed kin including friends.
How Are Family Members Helping Seniors Now?
Family members (30%) who have a senior over 65 right now report that they help their seniors financially and even more (60%) say they help their senior loved ones with day to day care.
While the current level of family caregiving is great now, the need is anticipated to be tremendous by 2050.
In China, the government mandates that adult children visit their parents ‘often’ and provide for them financially and spiritually.
No, we’re not suggesting such a mandate be implemented in the U.S., but showing how another society is addressing the situation.
How Are We Coping with an Older Population?
The Pew Research Institute compared the United States with two other countries that represent where we will be by then based on the fact that their populations are older right now — Germany and Italy. Their current numbers of elders is the number that we are expected to approximate in 2050.
Looking at the way they are handling a graying population can help us decide if we are ready and what we need to do to face the upcoming challenges.
- In both Germany and Italy, a greater percentage of adult children are currently providing care with basic tasks and personal care.
- Caregivers in both Germany and Italy report not providing as much monetary assistance compared to America and state they feel the government should be responsible for people in their old age.
- In America, family members state that they feel the families are responsible for elder care, not the government.
- All countries are coping with caring for senior loved ones and children, even adult children, at the same time.
- Half or more of adults with adult children in all three countries report financially assisting children over 18 as well as helping in non-monetary ways at the same time they care for seniors.
- Sweat equity is given equally to seniors and adult children in the form of errands, housework, child care, day to day tasks, etc. in all three countries.
- With fewer younger adults contributing to the social security programs in all three countries, caregivers will find a shrinking government financial pool to fund aging.
- People in all three countries share the opinion that they will receive no funds upon retirement from the government despite paying into the programs, 29% think they might get reduced benefits and only 7% think they will get full benefits.
- 56% of Americans and 61% of Germans not currently retired say they are putting money in a private retirement plan or other savings account aside from social security contributions; in Italy only 23% say they are doing this; 76% say they are not saving for retirement.
- Those not saving for retirement state they aren’t saving because they don’t have enough to put aside, not because they haven’t considered it or don’t think it’s important.
- In all three countries, more adults are assisting aging parents with their time doing tasks, including home repairs and errands rather than giving money.
Stress of Caregiving
This report gives us all some hope despite the country in which we live. It shows us all that being a family caregiver is not only the right thing but a rewarding thing as well.
They found that, in all countries surveyed, more participants reported that they felt their senior caregiving role was more rewarding than they found it to be stressful.
Even helping out their adult children was more worthwhile to them than it was stress inducing.
Many point to the fact their need to be caregivers and help their senior loved ones with daily tasks meant they were spending even more time with them. They were not just engaging in meeting their care needs but also connecting with them, talking with them, and enjoying hobbies with them.
This helped reduce the feeling of stress just meeting their needs could bring.
Family Time Important Across Nations
Family time is important in all countries but in Italy it appears as though the family bond is more defined, as they report living with their senior loved ones more often than in the US and Germany. They are also in much closer contact with their seniors when they aren’t living together compared to the other countries – 70% in Italy, 46% in the US and 32% in Germany report they contact seniors at least once a day.
Americans report using more technology to stay in touch, using text messages, email and social networks more often than in the other nations.
Interesting to note that in this report stepparents and stepchildren were included and were reported to play just as significant a role as parents and children.
Already it seems the notions of a traditional family are being redefined.
We know it is important to provide the highest quality of life to our senior loved ones but there will be many concerns, especially financial, for many seniors and caregivers in the near future.
And what about those elder orphans who don’t have traditional family members to meet their needs?
We need to think and plan for the future not just for our seniors but for ourselves as caregivers as it seems not just our seniors but out children depend on us.