According to a study by AARP, “nearly 40 million Americans in 2014 were providing unpaid care to people who are older, disabled, or otherwise in need of assistance.” Worse yet, “by 2020, 117 million Americans are expected to need assistance of some kind, yet the overall number of unpaid caregivers is only expected to reach 45 million.”
That’s about 2.6 people needing care for every unpaid caregiver available.
Why is This a Problem for People Who Are Receiving Disability Benefits?
Anyone living with a severely limiting disability knows just how hard it is to do everyday tasks that others can take for granted. Assistance is a constant requirement for people with severe disabilities—and this can place a huge strain on caregivers.
After all, unpaid caregivers have their own lives to take care of. They have to not only provide assistance to others, but find time to hold down a job and take care of themselves so they can be there to provide assistance.
Taking care of one person is like taking on a full-time job—one where there is no such thing as a “day off.” As such, it’s almost impossible for the average unpaid caregiver to provide full-time assistance to more than one person at a time.
So, for all too many disabled workers, finding someone to help handle daily tasks is going to be difficult. Even if you consider the projection that there will be “5 million paid caregivers” by 2020 and add them to the pool of 45 million unpaid caregivers, that still leaves an enormous gap in the supply and demand for care.
Is There a Solution to This Caregiver Crisis?
While the large gap between the number of available caregivers and people needing care is worrisome, there are some potential solutions to the shortage and alternatives to full-time care
Potential alternatives to full-time care include:
- Home Delivery Services. Services such as Amazon Fresh, Schwan’s, Netgrocer, and many others can deliver groceries and other supplies/merchandise directly to your home—allowing those with disabilities impacting mobility to get their basic necessities without having to leave the home. This helps alleviate the need for a dedicated caregiver to do the shopping.
- Home Repair Services. Basic house maintenance can be nearly impossible for someone suffering from a disability. Home repair/maintenance services such as Amazon Home Services and referral programs such as Angie’s List can help disabled homeowners find companies that can handle their household tasks.
- Transportation Services. Many disabilities make it difficult, if not impossible, to safely control a vehicle. Transportation services such as Uber and Lyft can help disabled workers get to their doctor’s appointments and other important meetings.
- Health Monitoring/Alert Systems. If a full-time caregiver isn’t available and an emergency happens, a health monitoring or emergency alert system could literally be a life-saver. Many of these systems consist of a transmitter on a chain worn around the wrist or neck that, when the button is pushed, summons emergency medical aid services.
These services, while useful, may not be a suitable replacement for dedicated care for those who have especially severe disabilities.
Another solution is to incentivize people to become full-time, paid caregivers. Ways to do this include:
- Providing Care-Focused Education Programs. While informal care from a relative doesn’t require previous experience or training, paid care providers will need that training and expertise. Focusing education programs on how to provide care for disabled persons and learning the career opportunities available for caregivers can help improve the rate at which qualified care providers join the workforce. Most importantly, such education needs to affordable to incentivize care-oriented educational courses.
- Raising Awareness of the Need for Caregivers. The caregiving industry is a rapidly-growing market with huge potential. By increasing awareness of the opportunities in this market, more businesses will be attracted to it—creating more caregivers.
- Give Caregivers the Chance to Take a Break. One of the primary issues with being a caregiver is that it’s a full-time job whether or not it’s a paid job. The stress of constantly having to balance the needs of work and caregiving is a huge strain on unpaid caregivers. The AARP report found “50 percent of working caregivers to be reluctant to tell their supervisor about their caregiving responsibilities.” Having workplaces provide time off or schedule adjustments for unpaid caregivers can reduce the strain on them—allowing more people to provide support to a family member in need.
These solutions aren’t perfect, but it’s important to take action now before the crisis becomes critical.
For those living with a disability and are in need of help, we here at Disability Experts of Florida hope that knowing a bit about the caregiving situation can help you prepare for the future.