According to a new report by the AARP Public Policy Institute, in 2010, each person aged 80 or older had more than 7 potential family caregivers aged 45-64. However, as the oldest baby boomers begin to retire, America is entering a period of transition in which this ratio will decrease sharply, hitting 4.1 by 2030 and continuing downward to 2.9 by 2050. This projection is worrisome because family caregivers provide the majority of long-term care for older adults. Caregivers are usually women, and most are employed. They spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care, and over one-third have children or grandchildren under 18 living at home.
Indeed, the emotional, relational, financial, and time burdens can be difficult for caregivers to manage–especially employed caregivers. In the Future of Children, authors Ann Bookman and Delia Kimbrel say that adults may actually spend more time caring for their parents than they did caring for their children. Smaller families, and the fact that potential caregivers live further away than in the past, make it more challenging to care for older family members. To care for the growing elderly population and ease the burden on caregivers, Bookman and Kimbrel argue for better coordination among health-care providers, nongovernmental community-based service providers, employers, government, families, and the elderly themselves. They especially recommend that employers offer more flexible work arrangements for caregivers, such as part-time work, paid leave, paid sick days, and other “elder-friendly” benefits. They also remind us that “today’s children will be the workers, citizens, and family caregivers who will care for the growing U.S. elderly population tomorrow. Focusing on children’s healthy development and education will build their capacity to provide supportive care for the elders of future generations.” For more information see the Future of Children issue on Work and Family.