WSJ: As America’s Unpaid Caregiver Network Shrinks, Challenges Add Up

When a professional home health agency isn’t an option, family and other unpaid caregivers are often asked to pick up the slack.

It’s estimated that more than 34 million people in the United States provide unpaid care to individuals 50 and older. The economic impact of those services is far from trivial. Indeed, unpaid caregivers—largely adult children, siblings, spouses or other family members—provide an estimated $500 billion worth of care service annually, according to estimates.

But America’s network of these volunteer, unsalaried caregivers is shrinking—and at the most inopportune time.

Each day, roughly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, past studies by the Pew Research Center have found. The ratio of caregivers to care recipients, meanwhile, peaked in 2010 and has been falling ever since.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted the looming care deficit in a new report published Friday.

“Families have fewer children, older adults are more likely to have never married or to be divorced and adult children often live far from their parents or may be caring for more than one adult or their own children,” stated a 2016 study by the National Academy of Sciences.

In effort to keep up the pace of care, families have even resorted to piecing together support networks made up of childhood friends and ex-spouses, The Wall Street Journal reported. It’s unclear how sustainable that strategy is, however.

Additionally, many of those caregivers have been forced to coordinate care from hundreds or even thousands of miles away as jobs have become more mobile and spread out geographically.

There are scores of personal and work-related challenges in taking on the role of an unpaid caregiver, The Wall Street Journal highlighted in its report.

About 68% of caregivers cited the mental and physical time and effort required of the role as a top challenge, while 45% identified the ability to navigate the U.S. health care system as a major obstacle. Another 45% of caregivers identified the changing relationship dynamics as a prominent challenge as well.

Statistics come from a study conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave.

When brought into the care plan, home health agencies often strive to help family members mitigate many of those points. Findings suggest the role of a home health provider may become even more prevalent moving forward.

Besides psychological and social factors, there’s a very real financial toll tied to caring for an aging loved one.

Family caregivers, on average, spend about $7,000 per year on out-of-pocket costs related to caregivers, a 2016 report by AARP determined.

Written by Robert Holly

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Robert Holly
When Robert's not covering the latest in home health care news, you can likely find him rooting for the White Sox or roaming his neighborhood streets playing Pokemon Go. Before joining HHCN, Robert covered everything from big agribusiness to the hottest tech startups. 

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