Could A Caregiver Corps Solve the Caregiving Shortage?

A recent report from AARP found that we are on the verge of facing a major caregiver shortage in the not-so-distant future. According to their report, in 2010, there were "more than 7 potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk years of 80-plus" and by 2030, the projected ratio will fall to 4 people for every person 80-plus. And by 2050, "it is expected to further fall to less than 3 to 1."

Aging in place has become an important part of aging in America. Whether due to the struggling economy, comfort or deeper personal reasons, people simply do not want to spend their later years in nursing homes or assisted living facilities; they prefer to grow old in their own homes, usually with the help of their grown children. For the last decade or so, this has been made possible thanks to their children and amenities offered by both private companies and local governments to assist the elderly with aging in place.

Baby Boomers, however, may not be as lucky. Boomer women had fewer children than their parents and some opted out of having children at all. Combine that with higher divorce rates -- by 2030, 36 percent of older men will have been alone for a decade or longer -- and we've got a Caregiver shortage crisis on our hands.

Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat out of Pennsylvania, sits on the U.S. Senate Aging Committee and has spent many hours listening to the testimony of people who are struggling to care for aging parents. Based on what he's heard, he's working on developing a National Caregiver Corps. According to a press release on Senator Casey's website, he plans "to introduce legislation to establish a Caregiver Corps program to foster the creation of community-based programs that can help 'fill the gap' in assisting older adults and individuals with disabilities, and in providing added support for informal caregivers." The goal of the program is to ease the burden of low-income and middle class families who have been struggling with how to balance work and family responsibility.

Volunteers who participate in the program would receive specific guidelines and structure from the Department of Health and Human Services in order to provide assistance to families by "cleaning, preparing food or even shopping for people who want to remain at home" as they age, as well as respite care for existing family caregivers. The proposal also includes providing volunteers with a stipend, tuition credit or even academic credits.

Senator Casey wasn't the first to think a Caregiver Corps was a good idea. In March 2013, the New York Times wrote about the topic on their blog, The New Old Age. Inspired by a random twitter post, Janice Lynn Schuster, senior writer for a nonprofit public health research organization, created a petition for the White House to "create a Caregiver Corps that would include debt forgiveness for college graduates to care for our elders."

Ms. Schuster described her vision as a program similar to Teach for America, a prestigious program that requires recent college grads to make a two-year commitment to teaching in a school district in need. And unlike Teach for America, there is a need for Caregivers in every town all across America, which would enable young graduates to remain close to home and involved in their local community.

While Ms. Schuster wasn't able to collect enough signatures to attract the attention of the White House, Senator Casey's proposal seems to have brought the idea back to life. Hopefully, Senator Casey's proposal might help to bring Ms. Schuster's dream to fruition and help thousands of older Americans age in place with dignity and grace.

What do you think? Is a Caregiver Corps a good idea? Share your opinion with us below in the comments or on Twitter: @MedicalGuardian

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