Growing number of aging baby boomers mean more caregivers needed

While some senior caregivers are hired professionals, many people are now turning to family caregivers for that extra care.

Family caregivers, sometimes called informal caregivers, are unpaid relatives who provide care to loved ones.

Jean Leonatti, CEO of Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging, said she has seen an increased need for caregivers.

“We do have this baby boom generation that is getting older, so we have a lot more older people than we used to,” she said. “The families are really providing a huge amount of care for older persons, and even if somebody is in a nursing home, the family is still providing services to them because the nursing home can’t do everything.”

According to a 2009 AARP report, 61.6 million family caregivers provided care at some time in the United States in 2009 and the estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was nearly $450 billion.

“What do you think the impact on our state budget would be if all of these family caregivers all of a sudden said they couldn’t provide care anymore and turned to the state?” asked Denise Clemonds, CEO of LeadingAge Missouri. “The state would have to come up with those dollars. It’s huge.”

She said that’s why Leading Age Missouri, located in Jefferson City, is such a huge advocate for support for caregivers and respite care.

“It’s so important that they are given assistance in caring for their loved ones,” Clemonds said.

Mary Schantz, executive director of Missouri Alliance for Home Care, said she thinks the rise in family caregivers is due in part to the economy.

“You have more family members that are perhaps available to work, and often times the needs of the patient really are unique and it makes it very difficult for a company to find workers who can work the hours and the particular circumstances.”

Clemonds said the current generation of family caregivers is known as the sandwich generation.

“They’re caring for adults, their aging parents, and they’re also caring for their own children,” Clemonds said. “They’re sort of sandwiched in the middle.”

Stephanie Binz of St. Louis is part of that generation. She cared for her aging father for seven years, while also raising her own family and working a part time job in advertising.

“It was difficult having enough time to devote to his needs and making sure I was familiar enough with his medical conditions,” Binz said. “It was a time challenge balancing family.”

Clemonds said there’s a high degree of burnout because of stress when someone is giving that type of ongoing care.

“That’s why a lot of states are looking at providing what we call respite care or caregiver support systems,” Clemonds said. “It might be that the caregiver wants to go to church, once a month even.

“A lot of them don’t get out for that, so that’s where respite care comes in.”

Clemonds said that as well as respite care, many employers are also providing assistance for employees who serve as a caregiver for a loved one.

“Employers are now seeing it (caregiving) impacting the work of those employees,” she said. “Time away from the job, interruptions during the day, these programs offered talk about information that is available for their family, and the person they’re caring for.”

Grace Hoffman, senior living counselor at Heisinger Bluffs Senior Living, said residents in the senior service community’s independent living areas request home health aids or family caregivers.

“A lot of our independent residents want to be able to stay in that apartment a little longer, so they need those extra caregivers to help them out at times,” Hoffman said. “They need the extra help sometimes to be able to age in place more.”

She said she hasn’t seen much of a change in other services requested, such as nursing home services. The demand remains consistent.

Clemonds said the population needs to prepare for more of an increase in the need for senior care.

“We will be inundated with seniors who need care across the entire spectrum of care, whether it be nursing homes, home health, hospice or adult day care,” she said. “Missouri really needs to take a look at that and start preparing our infrastructure within the state to help care for those, whether it be nursing homes, assisted living or home health, just supporting those informal caregivers.

“We need to do a better job of it.”

Binz is a member of a cabinet with LeadingAge Missouri that is working to develop a training program throughout the state for informal caregivers.

“This program would develop information, so when someone has to become a caregiver, they know where to go and who to go to,” Binz said. “Maybe they don’t know where to buy a wheelchair or what services insurance covers.”

Clemonds said it’s important to remember that these family members may not always be available as caregivers.

“I think it’s important to understand the stresses on a caregiver and how valuable the service is that they’re providing,” Clemonds said. “If the state had to provide that care, we would all go bankrupt.”

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