Caregiving

What The Senior Caregiver Shortage Means For The Eldercare Industry

The main problem the eldercare industry faces today is one of supply and demand. Simply put, there are not enough caregivers to meet today’s demand. This problem will only get worse as baby boomers begin to enter their later senior years, in what is colloquially being called “The Gray Tsunami.”
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The main problem the eldercare industry faces today is one of supply and demand. Simply put, there are not enough caregivers to meet today’s demand. This problem will only get worse as baby boomers begin to enter their later senior years, in what is colloquially being called “The Gray Tsunami.” 

The biggest hurdle may be the one that is most difficult to solve. Historically, the eldercare industry has been a field that does not pay a great deal. Because of that, fewer and fewer people tend to join the industry. As we all tend to live longer, the need for workers in the industry increases. Since the pay rate does not keep pace, fewer workers are joining the industry. Likewise, many seniors do not have the funds to increase the amount they can pay caregivers. 

The hurdles of the eldercare system 

Most older people that require eldercare would like to stay at home in what is known as “aging in place.” That means finding someone qualified to take care of their unique needs. These caregivers must be able to pay close and special attention to their charge’s needs and aid with nonmedical activities of daily living (ADLs). 

The problem beyond the specialized care provided is that this job is difficult. It is demanding physically as well as mentally. If the person you are caregiving for has dementia, for example, this presents a whole new range of problems. Even though the job is extremely taxing, the pay rates often are not much higher than minimum wage. Because of these two factors, the eldercare industry experiences extraordinarily high employee turnover. While the job can be a strain, those in the industry do find fulfillment in their work.

What can be done to fix the problem? 

It is widely acknowledged that better pay, training and benefits are the solution. The question becomes how to make that happen. In an industry where those who need care often cannot afford to pay more, how do companies make the numbers work? 

Adding to the problem is the demand currently in place for low-wage workers. Huge companies like Amazon and Walmart take enormous bites out of a workforce that otherwise might find interest in caregiving. Tight labor markets that presently exist exacerbate this problem. 

How immigration laws play a role 

It may seem like immigration policy has very little to do with the eldercare industry. The reality is, about one in four home caregivers come from another country. As immigration laws change and become stricter, the eldercare industry becomes even more strained. These people are sometimes the only ones who take these low-wage jobs. With fewer of these people joining the industry, the labor pool becomes even more strained. 

How technology can help 

The boom that is expected to occur in the eldercare industry has tech companies interested. Technology manufacturers are looking to get into the game with items like voice-activated devices and smart speakers leading the charge. 

There are items like smartwatches and medical alerts worn by those in need of care. They can send medical updates to practitioners. They also could contact medical personnel in case of an emergency. 

The path forward 

Some breakthroughs are occurring that can help soften the blow of a worker shortage, but the sad reality is that none of this can replace human caregivers. What a well-trained caregiver can provide to someone in need is hard to duplicate. The shortage of workers and increased demand will only get worse over time. The solutions are plain to see yet quite challenging to achieve.

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Charles Davenport is a member of the Senior Planning team. Senior Planning offers free services to seniors looking to move into assisted living, care homes and independent living.

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