January 27, 2011

Caring for a Graying America
By Diane Walker, RN, MS
January 6, 2011
In the coming years, professional caregiving will become one of the fastest growing career opportunities in the country. In the early 2000s, industry groups predicted a looming shortage of professional caregivers. They also expected that the gap would likely grow as the first wave of baby boomers celebrate their 65th birthday in 2011, introducing over 70 million new Americans to the over-65 age bracket by 2030.

According to labor statistics, the U.S. will require almost one million additional home care workers by 2017 and as many as three million more by 2030.

To better understand this challenge and identify effective solutions we, as experts in elder care, should understand its causes. The main reasons for the shortage of professional caregivers can be traced to two national trends: an increasing demand for care, associated with an aging population, and an inadequate supply of professionals entering the industry.

Older adults demand considerable health and care resources, and they will have a significant impact on care methods and delivery. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one in four Americans have multiple (two or more) concurrent chronic medical conditions (MCC). The prevalence of MCC among individuals increases with age and primarily occurs in adults over 65 years of age. This complexity of care will have a direct impact on the healthcare resources available. For example, we may witness increased wait times for physician visits, longer delays in nonessential surgeries and a general shortage of healthcare options caused by the explosion of this age group.

New Opportunities for Qualified Caregivers

Due to the increasing costs of acute inpatient care in hospitals and nursing homes, many seniors return to their homes as quickly as possible to reduce medical expenses. This practice will only intensify the necessity for experienced in-home caregivers to assist with activities of daily living. As many of us in the industry are no doubt aware, the overwhelming majority of elderly people prefer to remain safely and comfortably at home for as long as possible and often require outside help. Once again, this proves the growing need for trained, reliable, client-centered professional caregivers.

Qualified caregivers can help frail seniors with personal care, daily activities, meal preparation and occasional transportation. As we have done at Griswold Special Care, it is essential to seek and screen caregivers who know how to care and welcome the responsibly of sustaining the well-being of another person with compassion and understanding.

In addition to the increased demand for personal and home care aides, the shortage of caregivers will also be created by an expected sharp decrease in the supply of caregivers. In the next five to 10 years the industry will be at risk of losing a significant number of caregivers to retirement. To ensure that every senior who requires assistance will receive personal, high quality care for years to come, we need to enhance the profile of caregivers and demonstrate the need for increased appreciation for their hard work today.

Caregiving is a career choice that can be as fulfilling as it is promising. The rewards of helping a senior citizen remain independent for as long as possible reach beyond a paycheck. This is why it is important to put seniors in the hands of well-trained and passionate caregivers who provide them with a comfortable and seamless transition into in-home care. Becoming a caregiver is an excellent opportunity for anyone with a desire to help people, or a future in the social services or medical fields.

The growing demand for caregivers has the potential to open new doors for the recently laid off, or those who want to change their career path. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s employment projections for 2016, in-home care aides will be the second fastest growing job, second only to network systems and communications analysts. Although caregiving demands a high level of emotional involvement, people who are well suited for this work – compassionate, reliable and patient – will have excellent job prospects for years to come.

Diane Walker, RN, MS, is the Vice president of Quality and Compliance at Griswold Special Care. Diane is responsible for developing ongoing educational programs for professional and family caregivers. Diane is the editor for the Caring Times, a publication and website for caregivers and healthcare professionals.

Published in Dorland Health.