Imagine you are the only child of two elderly, divorced parents who live in two different states, both of which are far from the state where you live. They ailing and need regular care, but you can’t afford to pay for home care or nursing homes for both of them. The cost of airfare and missed workdays for regular visits is straining your budget, too. What do you do? This kind of dilemma will increasingly confront Americans, and it will only grow more acute as the ratio of caregivers to the elderly skews increasingly toward the latter. A new study from the AARP shows just how quickly that ratio is dropping. WSJ:
The number of potential caregivers available for every person who is at least 80 years old is expected to plummet by 2030, as the older population outpaces the number of younger Americans. The ratio of people in the most common caregiving age group (45 to 64) to those most likely to need long-term care (80 and over) is expected to fall to 4 to 1 by 2030—compared with more than 7 to 1 in 2010, AARP says. By 2050, the ratio could drop to less than 3 to 1.
How can we care for the elderly well, when irreversible demographic shifts will dramatically compound the cultural shifts of geographic mobility and family fragmentation? This is a complex problem with no easy solution. Medicare offers only very limited coverage of the costs of nursing homes or home care, and convincing 30 and 40 year olds to buy long term care insurance can be a difficult sell. Perhaps the most we can say at this point is that if cultural shifts are driving the eldercare crisis, new cultural shifts will have to play a role in ameliorating it as the demographic challenges continue. There might have to be more intergenerational living, and we’ll have to increasingly rely on private charities and religious orders to care for the low-income elderly. We’ve already seen society begin to adapt to the newly extended financial dependence of young adults; perhaps we can do the same for the elderly.[Image of nurse visting a patient from Shutterstock]