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STUDY: Fewer Family Caregivers Will Be Available to Assist Aged Baby Boomers

September 5, 2013

An August 2013 study from the AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI) analyzes the ratio of the availability of “potential family caregivers” to the size of the population aged 80 and older and found that this “caregiver support ratio” will widen through 2050.

This widening “care gap” of family caregivers will pose even greater challenges to meeting the caregiving needs of American elders, the researchers warn.

In The Aging of the Baby Boom and Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers, the researchers report their findings on the family caregiver ratio both nationally and in every state for three twenty-year periods when the baby boomers move from their “prime caregiving years” to needing long-term services and supports themselves. They also highlight other factors that will affect the demand for caregiving such as shrinking family size, increasing divorce rates after age 50, and a “stalling and even reversed” decline in disability rates among the young old and pre-retirees.

Ages 45-65 are the most common ages of family caregivers, the researchers report. The number of potentially available family caregivers also affects the availability of paid direct-care workers, they add, noting that direct-care workers, especially those who work in home care, are an older workforce (pdf).

The AARP researchers found that from:

  • 1990-2010 – the caregiver ratio was high and increased slightly from 6.6 to 7.2 potential caregivers aged 45-64 for every person aged 80 or older
  • 2010-2030 – the caregiver ratio will decline sharply from 7.2 to 4.1, especially when the oldest baby boomers turn 80 in the 2020s, and
  • 2030-2050 – the caregiver ratio is anticipated to continue to decrease — 4.1 to 2.9 — as the last of the baby boomers age into the “high-risk” years of 80 and over.

Making Policy Decisions to Meet the Demographic Challenge

Concluding that the supply of family caregivers will unlikely be able to meet the rising demand as baby boomers grow older and frailer, the researchers recommend that the nation develop a “comprehensive person- and family-centered” long-term services and supports policy that would:

  • Better serve the needs of elders with disabilities
  • Support family and friends in their caregiving roles
  • Promote greater efficiencies in public spending.

“Demography is not destiny — the policy decisions we make during the next decade will make a big difference in our ability to meet the challenges associated with the aging of the baby boom,” conclude Donald Redfoot, Lynn Feinberg, and Ari Houser, the authors of the AARP PPI study. “But demographic trends certainly define the challenges we will face and establish the magnitude of the solutions that will be needed.”

— by Deane Beebe

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