Caregiving is the new national health care problem. Children are struggling to care for their aging parents as advances in medicine make it possible to live longer with chronic diseases. The baby boom was followed by a drop in the birth rate, so the sheer numbers of people likely to need help in coming years is daunting.
The problem received new attention last week with a report by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and with the launch of a project by the University of Pittsburgh and Rand Corp. to better grapple with the needs of caregivers.
The National Academies report, Families Caring for an Aging America, called on the federal government to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing the logistics, costs and effects of caregiving. Millions of Americans are struggling with these issues. Some, especially those caring for parents with dementia, struggle more than others. It's a multilayered problem. Those who juggle jobs, families and caregiving responsibilities can burn out and get sick themselves.
Among other ideas, the report recommended expanded family leave programs and better support systems for caregivers. New approaches also should emphasize the importance of planning. Just as couples prepare for retirement long before leaving the work force, adult children should make plans for how and where they will care for elderly parents one day. That means working with siblings to apportion responsibilities and identifying financial resources that can be brought to bear. Those who must care for elderly parents alone deserve special attention in the national conversation on caregiving. They and their parents are most at risk.