Boomer Caregivers Abound, But Who Will Take Care of the Boomers?

Say what you want about baby boomers being selfish, materialistic, or any number of things critics have said about the attitudes and behaviors of this generation.

But don’t you ever say that they don’t take care of those close to them. Don’t you dare.

You see, baby boomers have been the glue holding together long-term care in this country for several years. They are caregivers to spouses, parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and yes, adult children with serious illnesses and disabilities.

Without them, there wouldn’t be enough long-term care facilities to care for half of those who can’t live on their own. In fact, according to AARP, the unpaid care that baby boomers provided in 2009 was estimated to be worth around $450 billion. That’s more than Medicaid cost that year and almost as much as Medicare did.

(c) FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(c) FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In an ideal world, this selfless service would be rewarded with an assurance that caregivers will be available for the boomers when they need a little help too someday. But according to a new report by AARP, “The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers,” the baby boomer generation will face a serious shortage of caregivers for themselves.

Why? Consider these three demographic factors:

  • There are a ton of baby boomers (78 million in 2010). Approximately 60 million will still be around in 2030, and 20 million will be alive in 2050.
  • Baby boomers had fewer children than earlier generations, resulting in fewer adult children to take care of their baby boomer parents.
  • We’re living longer. Enough said.

In 2010, there were approximately seven potential caregivers for each person 80 years or older. In the report, AARP predicts that by 2030 there will be only four potential caregivers for those who are 80+. And by 2050, there will be fewer than three.

That might still seem like plenty, but note that these are potential caregivers, not actual ones. If you’re a caregiver now, think of your own situation. I’ll bet you can think of a handful of other people who could be your loved one’s caregiver. But are they? Heck no! In most cases, it’s only you. So if that number is reduced to only three or four, a lot of baby boomers will find that none of those potential caregivers will pan out.

This is alarming on many levels. Families will look dramatically different without the bonds of caregiving cementing relationships in later life. If we can’t rely on informal care and must turn to formal paid care, how will this affect the financial health of families and, ultimately, our nation? Family caregivers must be better supported in order to make caregiving a more realistic and desirable endeavor. And long-term care services, including in-home care, adult day services, and senior living options must be made more affordable if their use is going to necessarily increase. Without these changes, Medicaid and Medicare costs will explode to even greater levels than we are seeing now and ultimately become unviable.

While voluntary health organizations and consumer groups are fantastic catalysts for these kinds of changes, a lot of the policies that facilitate these changes can only come from government. Can we trust that our representatives will be forward-thinking enough to make sure the baby boomers are taken care of when their time comes? I certainly hope so.

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