We need to be honest about who cares for our seniors

Last week in Chicago the American Society on Aging held a conference packed with ideas and best practices focused on the growing numbers of seniors across our country.  Speakers included Janice Lynch Schuster, who guest blogged here recently.

In her comments Lynch Schuster shared these eye-opening data from the Family Caregivers Alliance on who cares for the aging and what impact that work has on the caregivers:

  • Right now, 44 million people—2/3 of them women–care for someone who is over 50
  • About a third of those are caught in the tragedy and frustration of providing dementia care. And a remarkable one-third care for multiple older adults.
  • The average caregiver is a 48 year old woman who is married, works outside the home, and earns $35,000 a year.
  • Many of these caregivers are old themselves: and the older they are, the harder they longer they work at providing care. Those over the age of 75 are at it full-time.
  • Caregiving hurts women. We report higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. A quarter have health problems stemming from their caregiving duties. We develop more hypertension, have lower perceived health status; poorer immune function; slower wound healing; and we die more quickly.
  • We take a career hit: 1/3 decreased work hours; 1/3 passed up an assignment, promotion, or training; 22% took a leave of absence; 20% switched from full-time to part-time work; 16% quit entirely.
  • We take a financial hit to our pension prospects, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits.  This adds up to a total loss of more than $325,000 for women (and about $280,000 for men).With that kind of money, you could buy a really good long-term care insurance policy: But it gets the caregiver little that is tangible in return.

As pointed out in the data here, the women are doing the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) for our elders.

Lynch Schuster likens the care of our seniors to a trend which will, and should, become another rallying point among women, families, and eventually men.

She says this about the demands and expectations which take a toll on women:

“A word about men: Statistics indicate that more men are becoming family caregivers—but for any number of reasons (cultural, social, gender, whatever), the actual hands-on work overwhelmingly falls to women, and men focus more on things like financial management and hiring aides.

Like childcare, caregiving to adult family members is women’s second shift. Early feminists wanted the movement to open up society—to let men change diapers and take paternity leave and allow women be CEOs and secretaries of state—and caregiving will have to do that too. But first, we need to make it more prominent.”

She’s right. The burden falls on women. She’s also right when she, and others, say that women need to organize and speak up now. We won’t, can’t, and shouldn’t have to bear the weight of caring for our elders alone. And as the data indicate, before too long the majority of caregivers will become those who need care themselves.

Sign on to improve elder care here. And share this information (because none of us are getting any younger).

About Katherine Helms Cummings

During the day I am a social and environmental activist whose professional work has been in the nonprofit world for the last 12 years. Most nights and weekends I am an artisan making accessories with upcycled cashmere and woven textiles. My handmade items are available at The Sassy Gal http://thesassygal.org
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2 Responses to We need to be honest about who cares for our seniors

  1. Katherine Helms Cummings says:

    Thanks Susan! I will put you in touch with Janice directly. Anyone who wants more information and news on Caregiver Corps, or to contact Janice Lynch Schuster can find her via the Caregiver Corps page on Face Book. Please “like” the page so you can get updates. And of course I’ll respond here are quickly as possible.

  2. Susan Veale says:

    Katherine, I love your blogs!! Do you have contact info for Janice Lynch Schuster from the conference in Chicago? I’ve goodsearched her but only find her wordpress website.
    Thanks, Susan