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The Declining Pool of Caregivers

                Another article, this time in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye the other day.  It’s about how this country is running out of family caregivers at a time when the need for those caregivers is increasing.

              Some of my recent posts have included statistics showing the continued trend of an aging population and growing demand for long term care.  The median income of retirees has remained relatively unchanged for years.  At the same time, retiree debt has increased as a result of paying for the care of an older family member such as a parent or for the education and other needs of a child.

                Although I have written much about the cost of long term care in terms of nursing home assisted living facility costs or paying for private aides the reality is that there are more than 34 million people providing unpaid care.  About 95% of that care is provided by family members.  The amount of this unpaid care is estimated to be worth about $500 billion.  That’s 3 times the amount that Medicaid doles out for care, just to compare.

                The problem is that this pool of caregivers is shrinking and it’s happening for a few reasons.  As the population continues to age, that means the ratio of younger potential caregivers to seniors needing the care is dropping.  Families also have had fewer children – the people most likely to serve in a caregiver role.  Divorce has exacerbated the problem as there are more single seniors.  It also causes a greater burden on children who often are now juggling the care needs for 2 parents who live in separate homes often hundreds or thousands of miles apart.  Adult children themselves may have moved away from home adding to the distance problem.

                The article goes on to talk about many other factors as well as some of the solutions that have been fashioned.  We have experienced them all in our office with clients.  For example, the article talks about children relying on childhood friends who have been willing to help when the child lives long distance.  It also profiles one daughter who has asked her dad to look in on her mom on a regular basis.  Her parents were divorced 40 years ago.  Parents are also reluctant to move to be closer to their children and many children have their own established lives in locations far from the parents.

                Government benefit programs such as Medicare don’t cover long term care and Medicaid isn’t getting any easier to qualify for.  Some aging seniors have dropped their long term care insurance as premiums have risen.  Again, we have seen all of these scenarios in our office.

                The national media is starting to pay attention and write about the growing problem.  But what is lacking in the article and so many others that I have read , is any talk or even suggestion of the best way to address it  For many, planning ahead instead of “putting out fires” and patching together solutions as they go can make the problem much easier to tackle.  While it won’t solve every problem, putting a plan in place and working with knowledgeable professionals in the long term care field can make a world of difference.  Solutions are out there. In other words, for many, the long term care problem is solvable.