In a 2017 Health Affairs piece, Peter Buerhaus, David Auerbach, and Douglas Staiger discussed an approaching healthcare challenge—the reality that many nurses of the Baby Boomer generation will soon retire, creating a shortage of experience among the remaining RN workforce. The article caused me to reflect on the broader condition of caregivers in the US, particularly that of non-professional caregivers, who face many of the same scenarios that confront professional nurses but must do so without the training and expertise of the experienced RNs who will soon leave the healthcare field. As these caregivers play an ever-greater role in safeguarding the health of our aging population, a note on the physical and mental health of caregivers, and how public health can best support these individuals, and, by extension, the populations they care for.
As I have written before, population aging is one of the central demographic shifts of the coming century and a key challenge for public health. The Population Reference Bureau projects that, by 2050, the total global population of people who are over the age of 65 will comprise 16 percent of the world’s population—nearly 1.5 billion people. This shift represents a dramatic increase since 1950 when people over the age of 65 totaled just five percent of the global population. In the United States, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to more than doublebetween 2016 and 2060, from 46 million to more than 98 million, as the proportion of the 65+ age group rises from about 15 percent to about 24 percent of the world’s population. Aging populations face a range of distinct health challenges, from chronic disease to issues of mobility and mental health. Increasingly, the work of helping these populations navigate the challenges they face has been performed by unpaid caregivers, i.e. family or friends who provide full-time or part-time assistance to individuals with an illness or a disability due to age or other factors. Because caregivers must often balance their work with other day-to-day responsibilities, providing care can take a toll on their wellbeing.
Read the full piece at Psychology Today.