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Growing Elderly Population Puts Demands on Caregivers

(NU)-People are living longer, and that's good news. But it also means that the population of elderly people in the United States is growing-and that poses some challenges.

Already, it's estimated that 22.4 million American households-nearly one in every four-provides unpaid care to a relative or friend age 50 or older. Demographic trends make it clear this number will continue to increase well into the next century.

This aging population needs assistance with the activities of daily living that many of us take for granted-tasks such as housework, managing money and shopping for personal items. Depending on their health, these older Americans may also need help with daily activities such as eating, dressing, bathing and similar basic tasks.

Women Often Affected
Women are the traditional caregivers to the elderly, yet many women are also part of the labor force. In 1997 for instance, it was estimated that 61 percent of married couples both worked outside the home. That places many women in the difficult position of balancing work and family obligations.

'The typical caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who is employed (full- or parttime) and also spends about 18 hours per week caring for her mother, who lives nearby. The typical recipient of that care is a 77-year-old woman who lives alone and has a chronic illness, The average duration of the caregiving is 4.5 years.

A 1996 study, conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons, indicated that caregiving responsibilities can have a significant effect on people's workdays:

  • Half of the employed caregivers who were surveyed said they had taken time off, had come into work later or were working later hours. Of the people surveyed, 6 percent had given up work entirely to focus on caregiving, while 3.6 percent took early retirement.
  • When asked what kind of help or information caregivers could use the most, survey respondents requested "free time, time for myself' most frequently.

An Issue For Employers
Clearly, elder care is an issue for employers as well as families. "Employers are beginning to realize that assisting working women and men with their eldercare needs fosters a more creative and productive work environment," says Ida Castro, acting director of the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, "and we want to help them help their workers." To assist those faced by the elder care challenge, the Women's Bureau is offering Work And Elder Care: Facts For Caregivers And Their Employers, a guide that offers practical information on the types of elder care available.

"By sharing best work practices in this area, we hope to assist working families to balance the demands of work. children and, in many cases, their elderly parents or loved ones;" says Castro. The guide, which is free, is available on the Women's Bureau Web site at www.dol.gov/dol/wb, or by calling 1-800-827-5335.

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