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Are We Headed For A Workforce Crisis In Elder Care?

Are We Headed For A Workforce Crisis In Elder Care?

By Susan Williams

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed quite a few articles in the media concerning elder care and some of the potential challenges we may face.

For example, one was posted in the Guardian that shared that many males would never consider a career in caring for older people. The article pointed out that there is a growing shortage of resources to support the aging population and that we need to entice and attract more males into these professions in order meet the growing demand for services.

This article reminded me of a session I participated in at the International Federation of Ageing’s conference that I attended this past summer.

Dr. Gloria Gutman shared the fact that in Japan the ratio of workers to support the elderly is anticipated to drop from 5.8 to 1 in 1990 to 2.1 to 1 in 2025.

A second article I found interesting was recently published in Reuters. The post shared the following results of a study that was completed concerning baby boomers expectations for care as they age;

“Three in four baby-boomers with children expect one of their kids to help care for them when their health fails in old age and they don’t have a spouse who can do this, a UK study suggests.

When they don’t have kids, a third of baby boomers anticipate needing help from professional healthcare providers and four in 10 expect a close friend or neighbor will take care of them, the study also found.”

Is it really reasonable to expect our children to take care of our needs in our old age?

As much as we may expect this and even as much as our children may want to do this for us, there is a tremendous burden placed on them and potentially a risk to their physical and mental health.

The Family Caregiver Alliance shared the following;

“The psychological health of the family caregiver is negatively affected by providing care. Higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health effects are common among family members who care for an older relative or friend.”

And just in case you needed one more statistic on this topic, how about this from a Forbes article on The Shortage of Home Care Workers;

Government statisticians rank home care as one of the nation’s fastest growing occupations, with an additional million workers needed by 2026; that’s an increase of 50% from 2014. And the number of Americans age 85 and older is projected to more than double in the next few decades, soaring from 1.8% of the population in 2010 to 4.5% in 2050.

So, if you think that the services to support the elderly are not great now, can you imagine what it may be like in ten years from now as the oldest baby boomer starts turning 85?

When it comes to elder care, we may be facing some significant challenges in the not so distant future. So what can we do?

Here are just a couple of thoughts that I had;

Improve the Perception of the Profession of Elder Care Worker

As mentioned in the first article, many men would not even consider entering the profession as an elder care worker.

We need to improve the recognition and value that this profession receives – for both men and women.

For example, the average salary of a elder care worker/caregiver is $17.00 / hour in Canada and $10.12 / in the US. In both countries, it’s just hovering just above minimum wage.

If we want to attract more people into this profession we have to expect that making it more financially attractive is going to be necessary.

As well, I think we need to increase our perception and respect of these professions. After all, they are helping to care for some of the most vulnerable among us.

Focus on Prevention

Mobility is one of the biggest challenges that people face in living independently as they age and there are some ways to delay this.

Exercise and strength training are just a couple of examples of how to maintain mobility. We need to make sure that people have the knowledge and also support in developing and maintaining their physical fitness.

By possibly delaying the need for physical support, this may help decrease the demand for services.

Provide Support for Family Caregivers

So often, family members are just thrown in to the role of the caregiver. No training, no support and the opportunity for caregiver burnout is high.

They need support.

Training in how to actually be a caregiver, support systems that provide the opportunity for breaks, support groups to discuss and share their situations – these are just a couple of examples.

These are just a couple of thoughts. I am sure that there are many more things that could be done.

But one thing is for sure, if we don’t get focused on this situation now, our journey into old age may not be that pleasant – for either us or our overworked and stressed caregivers.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.