As the popularity of professional long-term care services grows among seniors, so does the need for informal assistance from adult children and other family members. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 65.7 million Americans , which is 29 percent of the US adult population, are providing care to someone ill, disabled or aged, and 43.5 million of those caregivers are looking after someone 50 or older.
Further, recent AARP statistics show the relative number of available caregivers is dwindling, however. In 2010, there were more than seven potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk, 80-plus year age range. That ratio is projected to fall to as little as four to one in 2030 and three to one in 2050.
Why the sudden shortage? “More people are living longer, and not as many people are going to be in that care-giving age group,” said Curt Stutzman, CEO of Messiah Lifeways, a non-profit that provides a network of services for senior citizens. Pew Research Center statistics indicate that the 65-and-older population will grow from roughly 13 percent in 2010 to 18 percent by 2030, making it the largest and fastest-growing group of senior citizens in US history. “By 2015, the number of people over age 65 is going to be greater than those 15 and under, and that’s not going to change once it happens,” Stutzman added.
The growing senior population isn’t the only factor affecting the potential shortage, either. “Fewer family members are even able to care for their parents, and there’s a more transient population of caregiver age,” said Stutzman. With middle-aged adults working more to make ends meet – often far away from their elderly parents – many seniors won’t have the access to potential caregivers they once enjoyed.
One possible impact of the looming lack of caregivers is that more even more seniors will seek professional long-term care. However, they may do so later in life in attempts to save money and leave more assets to their heirs. “I think you’re going to see people coming more into professional settings, but they’re probably going to be coming in later than 15 years ago because they want to stay in their homes as long as possible,” said Stutzman. “From a financial perspective, they’re not wanting to spend down their dollars until they have to.”