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Coming shortage of family caregivers, study shows

By Peter Rosen | Posted - Nov 12th, 2013 @ 10:39pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sheri Thompson has two jobs. On weekdays, she works in marketing for a home health agency that helps care for elderly people living at home. Mornings, nights and weekends, she takes care of her mom, Kathy Paris, who has Alzheimer's.

"It's definitely different when you come home and take care of a family member," Thompson said. "Yeah, it is very personal."

Thompson is not alone in caring for her mother. According to the Pew Research Center, two of every five adults are a caregivers, taking care of an adult or child with significant health problems.

Many adult caregivers wonder who will take care of them when they get old.

"I've thought about it but have not gone any further than that," Thompson said. "Well, my husband's a nurs,e so he has to stay around and take care of me."

One of the issues is the large aging baby boomer population. According to a recent report by AARP, in 2010 for every person 80 and older, there were seven adults 45 to 64. As the baby boomer generation ages, that ratio drops to four to one by 2030 and three to one by 2050.

AARP reported there may not be enough family caregivers to go around. However, because of its demographics, the ratios are slightly better for Utah.

"If we don't start stepping up the level of our preparation, I think it could be a crisis," said Dr. Randall Rupper. Rupper practices geriatric medicine at University Hospital and the VA Medical Center.

The original incarnation of the Affordable Care Act included a long-term care insurance option, but it was dropped because it was deemed unworkable. Too few young healthy workers, it was thought, would sign up.

I didn't think it would ever be like this. I always thought my mom would be my mom and she would always be there to take care of me. It's very hard, very difficult. Never thought I would be in these shoes.

–Sheri Thompson

Instead, Congress created the Commission on Long-Term Care to address the problem. In October, the commission released its recommendations, but it sidestepped the biggest issue — how to pay for long-term care.

"I think that financing and dealing with long-term care is just this elephant in the room," Rupper said. "It almost looks like a problem too big to tackle."

Medicare, in most circumstances, does not pay for long-term care. Medicaid helps only the poorest. Few people have private long-term care insurance.

According to Genworth Financial, in Utah the services of a home health aide five days a week cost about $48,000 dollars a year. Adult day care runs about $14,000 annually. A semi-private room at a nursing home costs more than $60,000.

"If we're counting on families to remain the pivotal, essential component of caregiving — the most cost effective way of caregiving — we need to resource them," said Katherine Supiano, associate professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing.

Paris attends Neighborhood House's adult daycare and her daughter gets help from Salt Lake County Aging Services' Caregiver Support Program. The program offers caregiver training, limited respite services and other assistance.

It is clear that for Thompson, the cost of taking care of her mom amounts to more than money.

"I didn't think it would ever be like this," she said. "I always thought my mom would be my mom and she would always be there to take care of me. It's very hard, very difficult. Never thought I would be in these shoes."


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