National Survey Underscores Need for Eldercare Strategy


If you knew of the resources in your community that would help you take care of your elderly loved one, would you take advantage of them?

Sixty-one percent of caregivers are aware of community support services (wellness programs, Meals on Wheels, home health care, etc.), yet only a fraction actually use them, according to the results of the 2012 "United States of Aging" study—a nationwide survey of people aged 65 and older, conducted by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), USA TODAY, and UnitedHealthCare.

In spite of the fact that nearly half of the caregivers surveyed claimed that they would benefit from some outside assistance, researchers found that only 15 percent took advantage of these kinds of programs.

What could cause someone to turn their back on such a potentially-beneficial gift horse?

The survey didn't ask caregivers why they refused help, but Rick Birkel, acting senior VP for the Center for Health Aging, NCOA, says that the startling statistic is likely driven by two factors: money and philosophy.

Not all assistance programs are free, and those that do cost money may be too expensive for some seniors to participate in.

For example, taking a loved one to an adult day center, or hiring an outside caregiver can be costly. If a senior doesn't qualify for certain government aid programs (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) it may be difficult for them to afford respite care services such as these.

This problem is particularly prevalent among middle-class seniors—people who make enough money to be disqualified from certain needs-based government aid programs, but not enough to comfortably cover their care costs.

Some caregivers may also be deterred from accepting outside aid by more metaphysical issues. They believe that it's their responsibility to look after their aging parents, so they hesitate to grab a hold of a helping hand.

"People have proven that they are willing to come out of the workforce to care for their family members," Birkel says, "They may be aware of these programs, but on a philosophical level, they may think it's not right for them, or their families."

When it comes to receiving care, seniors overwhelmingly rely on their relatives for assistance.

Almost nine out of every ten seniors who had caregivers were being looked after by a family member, while the majority of elders who didn't yet need additional help expected their children and grandchildren to take care of their future needs.

On an individual level, Birkel feels the findings of the study highlight how important it is for families to engage in eldercare discussions before a major health crisis strikes an aging loved one.

A thorough and honest inventory of assets and resources needs to be taken, and a plan needs to be made. He calls these conversations "emotional yet essential," pointing out that caregiving quickly becomes unmanageable if families don't strategize properly.

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