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Caring for Your Aging Parents

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Adult children are faced with being caregivers to two generations.

As America's population ages, more people will need help with daily living activities. Who will take on the job?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our senior citizen population is expected to expand from 48 million currently to 88.5 million by 2050. That means the demand for home health aides, personal care aides and nursing assistants will also rise: About 52 percent of seniors require some form of long-term care. However, the supply of formal caregivers is not keeping pace with demand.

When there's no formal care

If a formal caregiver isn't available for either financial reasons or a staff shortage, the burden often shifts to a family member — usually a female adult child. About 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months according to a 2016 Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) report. As many as 75 percent of these caregivers are women, a figure that FCA's Leah Eskenazi says has stayed relatively constant though the years.  

Although women now comprise about 57 percent of the workforce, research shows they are are just as likely to become caregivers as nonworking women. "Women still take the second shift," Eskenazi says. "They're working as well as caring for their families and for parents who need help. It's a holdover from the traditional expectations of women's and men's roles in the home."

Regardless of gender, many family caregivers feel caught in the middle. They may have adult children and grandchildren who want their love and attention, as well as an older parent or relative who needs them. People caught in these dual roles are part of what's now called the "sandwich generation."

"It definitely means the caregiver's attention is divided," says Eskenazi. "She has literally no time for herself."

As the demand for caregivers increases, trends show no sign of an increasing supply. To the contrary, as more young adults decide not to have children, we may see an even greater increase in caregiving needs as time goes on. "There's a real concern about availability," says Eskenazi. "We're seeing some challenging trends moving forward."