An Aging Population Will Require More Resources for Caregivers

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections, by 2035, older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Here in South Florida, it is estimated that nearly one in four people will be at least 65 years old by 2040.

As we age, we are living longer: the Social Security Administration projects that men and women reaching 65 this year, can live until the respective ages of 84 and 86. One out of every four will live past 90 and one in 10 will celebrate a 95th birthday.

The aging population will affect health care in the increasingly important role of caregiver. In a paper entitled “What is the Physician’s Responsibility to a Patient’s Family Caregiver?” published with his co-author Mark J. Yaffe, M.D., in the May 2014 issue of AMA Journal of Ethics, Dr. David Barnard noted five systemic factors contributing to the increase in adult family caregivers, which I have paraphrased below:

1. The shift toward outpatient care and deinstitutionalization;
2. Economic pressures for early hospital discharge;
3. Reliance on hospitalists who are less likely to be familiar with the home situation to which they will discharge a patient;
4. The patchwork of fragmented social programs for home care;
5. The low-pay, high-turnover nature of home health care which diminishes the likelihood of a stable home health care workforce.

To which I would add a sixth factor: the projected shortage of home health care aides and personal care aides in a field which will need to add 1.2 million workers between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From scheduling appointments and household chores to performing wound care and managing medical machinery, adult caregivers are becoming an increasingly common component of a patient’s care team. Caregivers themselves often risk their own physical, emotional and financial health. ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) families take the hardest hits as savings are exhausted and they may have to pass up promotions or leave jobs that that cannot provide the flexibility needed.

The economic costs are substantial:
• The average caregiver dedicates 29 hours per week to caregiving activities;
• Caregivers miss, on average, 10 days of work each year to handle care responsibilities;
• These missed days represent a staggering $38.2 billion dollar productivity loss to the American workplace annually.

The South Florida Institute on Aging (SoFIA) is the only provider of volunteer caregiving services in Broward County and we see firsthand that demand for local caregiving services is outpacing the supply of volunteers. We also know that the supply of caregivers is lessening, namely because of our aging region, lack of younger family residents and larger geographic separation.

With the support of regional and national partners, SoFIA develops innovative ideas and services to support South Florida’s aging community and serve as a national model. Last summer, we brought together business and community leaders to identify the top issues facing caregivers which led to the creation of the Caregiver Coalition of South Florida, a grassroots effort who’s membership includes AARP, Broward Health, Humana and Vitas Healthcare, among others.

On June 22, SoFIA and the Caregiver Coalition of South Florida will host the second annual Caregiver Symposium at the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University. Moderated by CBS WFOR reporter and anchor Rick Folbaum, the symposium will focus on improving the quality of life for caregivers and offer educational lectures, networking opportunities and breakout sessions covering such issues as technology, caregiving and policy. Award-winning journalist and author Chris Farrell is the featured guest speaker and Senator Nan Rich will be one of the participants.

While policy makers debate the effect of rising oceans, we must all prepare to understand and prepare for what we know is a certain to come: a silver tsunami headed our way.

This piece appeared in the South Florida Hospital News (June 2018).

Peter Kaldes