I read a couple of articles yesterday about caregivers. One contained very encouraging information for those who are currently caring for loved ones. The other one made some grim projections for those of us who might need a caregiver in the future.
The first article titled “Moving Toward Person and Family Centered Care” was published in March of 2012. In it Lynn Feinberg writes about a shift in the healthcare industry in which medical personnel are not only making decisions based on the disease but are also including the person and the family as not just a part of the care team but the center of it. In this model, the patient is recognized as a whole person and not just an afflicted patient. The needs and preferences of the family are recognized, and family caregivers are considered partners in care.
This shift represents the recognition by the health care and long-term service and support systems (LTSS) of the importance of family caregivers. Feinberg states that in 2009 family caregivers provided an estimated $450 billion in unpaid care without which the current systems would not have been able to meet the needs of older adults. She goes on to say that approximately 66% of older people with disabilities get their LTSS exclusively from family members.
While I was caring for Mom and Dad, I sometimes ran into the old attitudes that placed the doctor or the government programs in the center of
the care scenario. I went head-to-head with a Social Security more than once. On the one hand, the rules said I couldn’t change the address on their accounts without Mom and Dad’s permission, but they were unable to prove their identity because they didn’t know their Social Security numbers without my help. On the other hand, a program-centered clerk all but accused me of trying to steal their money when I tried to get my name put on their accounts so I could take care of such matters. I eventually learned to work through the system for their best interests, but it wasn’t easy. Dealing with doctors with out-of-date attitudes was a little easier – I shopped for more understanding doctors more than once.
Feinberg goes on to outline some of the many advantages of a more person and family centered care model. Then she ends by saying that although it is not yet commonplace, this model is gaining increased attention. This is encouraging information, but I wonder if it might not be a case of too little too late, especially in light of the second article I read.
In August of this year Jessica Hughey wrote an article called “Baby Boomers to Face Shortage of Available Caregivers” in which she states that “within the next few decades, Baby Boomers will face a drastic shortage in the availability of family caregivers.” The reason for this is simple – there are just too many of us. I’ve faced this reality most of my life. As a child I went to school in temporary buildings in classes of 30-35 students because there weren’t enough classrooms or teachers. When I bought my first home, I waited months to move in because the demand for new housing far outstripped the availability.
Now, at a time when the care industry is recognizing the importance of family caregivers, we may be facing a shortage of caregivers. In her article, Hughey cites some eye-opening statistics. From 1990 to 2010 the pool of potential caregivers was so large there were approximately 7 for every person over the age of 80. By 2030 this ratio is predicted to be 4 to 1, and by 2050 it is expected to fall to 3 to 1.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post called “The Least of These.” In it I wrote about Mom’s toenails and how as her caregiver I had to deal with a smelly fungus that turned them thick and yellow. After reading it, my only child Christian told me that when it came my turn to need a caregiver, I might be out of luck. “I have a real aversion to touching someone else’s feet,” he said. Based on the statistics in this article, a lot of us may be out of luck.
I’ve had articles rejected because there was no “call to action.” One editor said, “This is a great story, deeply personal and moving, but what am I supposed to do with it?” As I end this article, I don’t have any answers, so I’m asking my readers for suggestions. As our population ages, how do we provide care for those who will need it, for the least of these?
- One Way to Deal with Caregiver Guilt | by Linda Brendle (lifeaftercaregiving.wordpress.com)
- Ten Random Acts of Caregiving | by Linda Brendle (lifeaftercaregiving.wordpress.com)
- Caregivers Must Control Medications for Dementia Patients | by Linda Brendle (lifeaftercaregiving.wordpress.com)