Caregiving: A perfect storm approaches  

June 22nd 2017
5 minutes reading 
Carefolk Blog

"We’re facing a caregiving cliff," says Dr. Susan Reinhard, director of AARP Public Policy Institute.

She’s not alone in her claim. Global research, data modules, and media reports point to the same conclusion: a looming crisis threatens to upend government’s approach to care provision and to increase disportionately the burden of care on families.

Yes, a perfect storm brews at the horizon. A confluence of social, political and economic factors have created a self-perpetuating cycle that is projected to leave governments struggling to fund the necessary support for an increasing amount of people in need of care.

Changing Demographics

We may not have discovered the fountain of youth, but within a few generations modern medicine has significantly increased life expectancy around the world. Our loved ones are living longer; our children less likely to die at birth. Grandparents and great grandparents born in the early 20th century would not have been able fathom a life where they could expect to reach the current retirement age.

Yet the children of the largest generation, those born in the post-war baby boom starting in 1946, have already benefited from modern medicine and begun to reach retirement age. In fact, ten thousand of these "Baby Boomers" will retire each day in the U.S. alone. A study by the European Commision showed that people aged over 65 accounted for nearly twenty percent of the EU population and is expected to climb to thirty percent by 2060.

" We’re facing a caregiving cliff"
Dr. Susan Reinhard, AARP Public Policy Institute.

People are living longer. In addition, families are having less children. In many Western countries, there is a socio-economic shift away from agrarian lifestyles and many more people are living alone.

Western countries are experiencing a decline in birthrates, triggering a decrease in the ‘old-age dependency ratio’, the number of people available to support any one person. There will be fewer economically active people to support a large ageing population, straining the social and healthcare systems. The European Commission states that by 2025, the number of people supporting the care for one person is projected to decrease from four to two.

This higher demand for care from demographic aging will push up public spending on health and long-term care in the EU to as much a 10.6% of the GDP by 2060. Many public facilities and hospitals are already short of funds, staff, and provisions and not able to alleviate overcrowding and provide adequate care. The most costly care is often needed by those who have lived the longest and the most likely to have exhausted their retirement resources--the octogenarians-- and the number of people over age 80 is set to increase threefold by 2046. 

The increasing demand for care is being met with a decreasing supply. There are 250,000 carers in Ireland and 6.8 million in the U.K, and.while those numbers might seem substantial, the European Commission predicts a shortage of 2 million workers in the overall EU Silver Economy by 2025. About two-thirds of carers are female, many of whom are daughters and wives who split their time between tending to family, work, and ageing loved ones. Often, they will cut work hours to devote more time to caring and giving up on average more $300,000 in wages and benefits throughout the years.

The caregiving crisis impacts everyone. From the infants taking their first breaths to the octogenarians who have lived to see the birth of several generations to the neighbor caring for her mother to the policy makers building these healthcare systems. Chances are that we will all help care for and/or be in need of care ourselves. But this crisis disproportionately affects families who shoulder the brunt. The hardworking middle-aged population, trying to balance raising their children and maintaining a career, are thrust into providing care for their loved ones physically, emotionally and financially. According to one survey, fifteen percent of the U.S. middle aged population were found to be financially supporting both a child and and older adult. These family carers want to help but forced to learn as they go, navigating complicated policies and fine print. They become their own experts in insurance and medical policies. Often families will bind together to help support ageing loved ones, but even in the ideal circumstances, the financial constraints of long-term care, numerous doctor visits, complicated medicine schedules and dosages,and daily care routines, these carers are left feeling isolated, ill-prepared and burnt out. Family carers spend on average seven years looking after a loved one, and seventy-five percent never received training in the first place. Years of feeling unsupported and stressed have left nearly half with symptoms of depression. Now, who will care for the carers?

Driven by changes in the market and government policy from too few options for adequate care, creative solutions from cross-sector collaboration has already yielded new models. Integrated patient-centered care focuses on independent living and preventive care to ensure better, tailored care that will keep the receiver healthy and out of the public system. The reduction in hospital stays alone could save more than seventy-five million pounds in hospital costs. Another model emphasizes a greater reliance on assisted living in the home, aided by the family and community and utilizing technology that present practical solutions for families providing care. The usage of avatars, mental rehabilitation games, sensored-based monitoring systems, and user-friendly tablets and laptops bridge communication gaps between carers, family, and care receivers and address feelings of loneliness and fear of using technology. Critical data is also captured allowing for early alerts and insights into an illness diagnosis or progression.Carefolk, designed by carers, is another solution whose scheduling, networking, organization, and communication features free up time and bring support, community and joy to the lives of carers.