Many of us want to be there for our loved ones when they are in need. We may especially feel a desire to care for our parents – wanting to give back a bit of what they have given us throughout our lives. That is how I felt when caring for both my husband’s parents and my own as they became less and less able to care for themselves. My husband and I became the primary caregivers for them over the years as they needed more and more help, including leaving my job and bringing them into our home. While I will be forever grateful that we were able to do this for them, there is no denying that it came at a cost.
While the contribution of unpaid caregivers has always been an assumed part of the elder care picture, we are just starting to get an objective handle on what exactly is being given, and the impact it has on our society as a whole. The value of the care provided by the 42 million Americans caring for someone over 50 has been estimated at around $600 billion a year, all at the same time that those caregivers are actually facing a huge financial loss estimated at $522 billion a year in lost wages as well as spending a quarter of their income on caregiving expenses. These caregivers also pay a physical and mental price, with depression and cancer rates increasing along with mortality rates. Formal caregiving options to offset this demand are varied and limited, with an open job listing for in-home aides expected to hit 8.2 million by 2028, partly due to a median annual pay of $29,430 along with poor working conditions, high injury rates, and little hope for advancement.
There is work being done to address this. The new GUIDE Model, which is currently open for applications, supports dementia care at home and considers the needs of caregivers, including support and training for them as a core service. The Federal Government has attempted to build caregiver support into budget plans with varied success, as well as some states through Medicaid programs. However, more needs to be done and done quickly. With the growing elderly population and the increasing financial pressures on the working class, this tenuous situation of relying on unpaid caregivers is heading towards disaster. As professionals in this space, we need to do what we can to empower these caregivers and advocate for them at every opportunity.
“You Shouldn’t Have to Take Care of Your Aging Parents on Your Own” by Michelle Cottle, posted by The New York Times on September 6, 2023 and accessible (with subscription) at: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/06/opinion/seniors-home-care-aging.html