Many seniors are able to age in place with the help of informal caregivers, but a dramatically shrinking caregiver supply in relation to the booming senior population will have major implications for long-term care in coming years.
“Family caregivers—including family members, partners, or close friends—are a key factor in the ability to remain in one’s home and in the community when disability strikes,” says the AARP Public Policy Institute in an Insight report. “More than two-thirds of Americans believe that they will be able to rely on their families to meet their [long-term services and supports] needs when they require help, but this belief may collide with the reality of dramatically shrinking availability of family caregivers.”
The United States is less than two decades away from what’s been called “the 2030 problem”—when a large number of boomers enter late old age at the same time that the caregiving population is in steep decline, says AARP.
“These trends have had major implications for public programs that provide LTSS assistance,” says the report.
What’s happening is a plummet in the “caregiver support ratio”—the number of potential caregivers between the ages of 45 and 64, for each person aged 80 and older. The 80-plus demographic is the most likely to need LTSS, says AARP, while the boomer generation is currently functioning as the most common age range for caregivers.
Between 2010 and 2030, the caregiver support ratio will go from seven potential caregivers for each person in the “high-risk” years of 80-plus, down to four.
“The departure of the boomers from the peak caregiving years will mean that the population aged 45–64 is projected to increase by only 1 percent between 2010 and 2030,” says the paper. “During the same period, the 80-plus population is projected to increase by a whopping 79 percent.”
Seven in 10 people aged 80 and older had some kind of disability in 2010, AARP says, while nearly 56% have a severe disability and about a third need assistance from others with one or more activities of daily living.
Timely policy action is needed to meet the expected needs of the growing senior population, says the report.
“Rising demand and shrinking families to provide support suggest that the United States needs a comprehensive person- and family-centered LTSS policy that would better serve the needs of older persons with disabilities, support family and friends in their caregiving roles, and promote greater efficiencies in public spending,” AARP concludes. “The challenges that face us are real, but they are not insurmountable—if we begin now to lay the foundation for a better system of LTSS and family support for the future.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace