Supporting Senior Caregivers: Yes, Help is Available

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Caring for the Caregiver 

It’s no secret that our population is aging; data from the 2020 U.S. Census shows that by 2030, all Baby Boomers—defined as those born between 1946 and 1964—will be at least 65. And as they continue to age, it will shape not only public policy but personal need.

Caring for older family members—whether they are aging in place at home, or living in a care facility—is a difficult and exhausting job. Dr. Grace Whiting, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregivers, is concerned about the increasing need for caregiving and health services for people over age 65.

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President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill was designed to increase paid family leave for those who care for seniors and Medicaid benefits for those who require care. As part of the bill, Biden has allocated $450 billion to give more people the choice to receive care either at home or in supportive care communities. The President has promised to help states offer cost-effective options for primary and preventive care along with affordable support services for help with meals, transportation, home safety, and high-quality day programs for seniors. He will also increase Medicaid funding.

Alas, the bill was defeated in the Senate late in 2021, though Biden and his fellow Democrats hold out hope that a reconfigured bill can be passed. In particular they hope to win over a holdout Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

As things stand in the U.S., the so-called “sandwich generation” tasked with caring for their elderly parents is massively burdened both financially and emotionally. A Pew Research study found that 30 percent of adults with at least one parent age 65 or older report that their aging family members require help with self-care or finances. And more than half of middle-aged adults gave $1,000 or more to their parents in 2019 for necessities like groceries and, often, to pay medical bills.

Other costs associated with caring for aging loved ones include home modifications like grab bars and ramps, and transportation to and from medical appointments. Families frequently need to bring in outside help as well as pay for monitoring devices, hearing aids, and other medical equipment not covered by insurance.

Geriatric physician/author Cheryl Woodson believes that caregivers don’t always know what kind of help to ask for, but they should reach out anyway. In an interview posted on MarketWatch.com in November 2021, Woodson offered some advice for family caregivers and shared her disappointment that the majority of Americans have no access to paid family and medical leave:

“Caregivers are so much more different now than previous generations. They feel like they can’t do it like their parents did.” In the last few decades, families no longer live in the same vicinity with older relatives who may reside across the country. And as people are living longer, caregivers often have their own age- and health-related issues to manage while tending to loved ones.” 

In Woodson’s opinion, the best thing caregivers can do for themselves is to get involved in groups like AARP and other communities, as well as reach out to their legislators.

Another way to support both older Americans and their caretakers is by taking advantage of digital health technology. According to the Accenture 2020 Digital Health Consumer Survey, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of virtual healthcare services, which include remote care and electronic health records (EHR). Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will continue to impact the healthcare market, specifically in terms of predictive modeling, diagnosis, patient experience, and drug discovery. The global AI market is, in fact, expected to grow from $6.1 billion in 2021 to 39.5 billion by 2026.

Virtual medicine and health tracking are invaluable tools to ease the stress of those caring for elderly loved ones. Two-way video calling allows patients to access clinicians without having to leave home, and healthcare providers can communicate with family caregivers and patients. Health-tracking apps let family caregivers keep track of important health information like blood glucose levels and blood pressure. And wearable sensors offer remote monitoring of patients’ activity and movements on a 24/7 basis.

The  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has specific tips on finding support if you are a caregiver. These include:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call on family members, friends, and neighbors to share caregiving tasks.
  • Search out community-based services for older adults and caregivers that can provide transportation, meals, and caregiver support.
  • Give yourself a break by finding respite services nearby.
  • Learn about services and support groups for caregivers of veterans or caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, if applicable.
  • Start preparing for future healthcare needs.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, speak with your doctor about depression.

But as Woodson said in her interview with MarketWatch, “Caregivers know better than anyone else what they need.”

As a result, she added, they need to be fully engaged. They need to join groups like AARP, as well as other communities. They need to communicate with legislators.

“It is important,” she said, “for your voice to be magnified.”

There is little doubt about that, since caregivers are challenged every day. And they need all the help they can get.

Melissa Powell
COO at Genesis HealthCare

Melissa Powell is COO of Genesis HealthCare, a network of 250 facilities across 22 states.