Across the world, people are living longer. The global average life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900 and is now approaching 70 years. In the U.S., nearly 100 million people will be 65 years or older by 2060. This is about double what this population is today.
34 million unpaid caregivers
The challenges of an aging population, particularly for our health care system, are many. They include the large numbers of people who are (or will be) living alone; the vast number of people that have multiple, chronic health conditions; a dramatic increase in nursing home care; a steep rise in people living with Alzheimer’s disease; and an increase in Medicare expenditures.
But, there's also the impact of an aging population on more than 34 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. Eighty-five percent of these caregivers provide care for a loved one or relative and have little to no training or support. Family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care, while nearly one in four spends more than 40 hours – that's a full-time job without the full-time pay. While we know a lot about the makeup of these caregivers, we know very little about how best to support them.
Finding ways to support caregivers
The Family Caregiving Institute, part of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at University of California, Davis, held a summit with national and international experts in family caregiving to address this issue. Their aim is to map out priority areas for research that will lead to better assessment, training and support for caregivers.
A variety of disciplines were represented in the summit conversation, including nursing, medicine, social services, gerontology and computer technology. The research priorities focused on four main areas: the trajectory of family caregiving, technology in caregiving, the unique needs of family caregiver populations and the heterogeneity of family caregiving. Discussions also focused on the growing numbers of older adults living with serious illness and functional limitations in contrast to the limited availability of both family and professional caregivers.
“Every year, there are fewer people available to engage in family caregiving than we have people who are turning 65."
"In 1950, there were approximately three adults over the age of 65 for every 100 people of working age. By 2050, that ratio is expected to be 30 to 100,” said Terri Harvath, executive associate dean and director for the institute. “It is incumbent upon us to figure out how we can best support the families who are providing care to older adults because we as a nation and world cannot pay for the care that older adults will need.”
Strengthening the workforce through foundation support
Part of the foundation’s work focuses on caring for people with serious illness and those who support them. Emphasis is placed on strengthening the workforce, which includes clinicians and family caregivers who are providing care to the most vulnerable.
“Improving the training and support of family caregivers is an important step in delivering the highest level of care for their loved ones,” said Diane Schweitzer, interim chief program officer. “But we must first identify the research still needed to guide what is most useful to caregivers and for the clinicians who support them.”