How common are caregivers? According to a new survey, more than half of U.S. adults 50 or older have experience caregiving for an older adult—but most don’t get paid.
According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 54% of adults in the U.S. ages 50 to 80 said they cared for someone 65 or older within the past two years. This includes help with personal care tasks, like making appointments, preparing meals and managing finances.
The survey found that 94% of participants weren’t paid, even though 47% of them provided care for at least three years and 41% cared for more than one person. Of all participants, 62% are still active caregivers.
“I see this routinely in my primary care practice, and I know the value that spouses, grown children and close friends can bring to the health and well-being of older adults,” wrote Jeffrey Kullgren, who served as the poll director. “But there is almost no formal mechanism for our society to recognize or compensate them for what they do.”
Although compensation for their work is unlikely for most caregivers, reimbursement policies vary by state.
“If you don’t have a long-term-care insurance policy, you can reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging to see what free and low-fee services they offer,” said Arvette Reid, client services director at Lifecare Affordability Plan. “AAAs coordinate and provide services for older adults such as Meals on Wheels, homemaker assistance, and whatever else it may take to make independent living a viable option.”
The survey showed that 25% of participants think caregiving is harder than they expected, but more than half of caregivers reported they feel appreciated and more aware of their future health needs.
“The challenges of helping someone you know as they grow older should not be underestimated, but neither should the potential rewards,” said Courtney Polenick, a caregiving researcher at Michigan Medicine, in a release. “These data show the importance of supporting those who help our nation’s oldest adults. Not only have 54% of people over 50 done this in the past two years during the pandemic but about two-thirds of that group are actively doing it right now.”
The challenges of helping someone you know as they grow older should not be underestimated, but neither should the potential rewards.
The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that in the next 12 years, older adults will outnumber children for the first time in the U.S., and that within the next 18 years, 25% of Americans will be 65 or older.
“If you are not currently a caregiver, at some point in your life you either will be a caregiver or need a caregiver,” Indira Venkat, senior vice president at AARP Research, told The Hill. “It’s important that we consider the unique needs of caregivers and ensure they have the support to care for themselves as well as their loved ones.”