The Future of Caregiving in the United States

With Americans living longer than ever before, many of us will eventually require long-term care. It has been estimated that half of all women, and one in four men, will spend time in a nursing home at some point in their lives. However, the true foundation of our long-term care system is family caregivers, who provide assistance and support to parents in the home. Eighty percent of those receiving care get the care they need at home, from family members. A recent study by the AARP suggests that this system will be undermined in the future by demographic changes.

Baby Boomers are now in their fifties and sixties. Many provide care for aging parents. Boomers in their 50s frequently take time off from work to care for their parents, while Boomers in their 60s often spend the early years of their retirement providing such care. And there are plenty of Boomers available to do so. In fact, in 2010, there were more than seven potential caregivers for every person aged 80 or above.

This will change dramatically in the coming decades. By 2030, the number of caregivers available for every person over 80 years of age will drop to four. By the year 2050, it is estimated that this number will drop to two and a half. As Boomers grow older and eventually require care themselves, who will provide it? And what does the future look like for the generation that follows?

Other demographic factors will impact the available pool of family caregivers as well. These include the high divorce rate, the percentage of women who work outside the home, and the tendency for young adults to relocate far from where their parents live in search of better opportunities for employment.

What does this mean for the future of family caregiving? Perhaps we will see different forms of residential care than that currently provided in single-family homes. Neighbors and friends may be able to increasingly provide the necessary care. What is certain is that the face of caregiving will change.

A recent trend provides a hint of one option that could become popular and readily available in the future—supportive housing. Options range from board and care homes to large institutional complexes. Supportive facilities typically provide food and personal assistance while seeking to encourage independence and a sense of privacy and personal dignity. Services available from supportive housing facilities can include assistance with dressing, preparing meals, eating, shopping, cleaning, and supervision over the residents’ health and emotional well-being. In situations where round-the-clock care is not needed, supportive housing could very well turn out to be an option, as in-home care provided by family members becomes a thing of the past.

All of this underscores the need to plan ahead for the possibility of requiring long-term care. Particularly, when you factor in the cost of receiving care from professionals, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.