Nearly 20% of Georgia’s population is over 60 and about 10% of the state’s elderly live alone, but there is only one caregiver per 100,000 people, according to data analyzed by the Mesothelioma Center .
There are not enough caregivers available for the baby boomer demographic, whose members over the age of 65 have grown from 41 million in 2011 to 71 million in 2019, a massive increase of 73%.
The US Census Bureau estimates that this number will continue to rise, predicting that it will reach 82 million by 2030.
That was before COVID-19 killed 30,000 Georgians and seriously ill patients of all ages. Even in families where everyone stayed healthy, parents became teachers and spouses became caregivers while juggling careers at home.
Sean Marchese, a registered nurse and oncology writer at the Mesothelioma Center, said caring for others can be exhausting work when it comes to managing someone’s schedule and daily tasks while trying to take care of your own needs.
“Many of these people spend their extra time and energy caring for someone else for the vast majority of their time without any form of reimbursement or compensation,” he said.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, informal or unpaid caregiving by friends or family members has been associated with:
— High levels of depression and anxiety.
— Increased use of psychoactive drugs.
— Worst self-reported physical health.
— Compromised immune function.
— Increased risk of premature death.
More than half (53%) of caregivers report that a deterioration in their health compromises their ability to provide care.
Additionally, quarantine and isolation trigger relapses for those recovering from substance use disorder. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances persist two full years after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As people continue to leave the workforce — either to change careers, to retire, or to stay home and provide care — the demand for professional services increases.
By 2030, demand for home health care is expected to increase by 46%, with more than one million new home care jobs to be filled. In Georgia alone, 142,900 home health care jobs will become available over the next six years.
Currently, about 75,000 people work as paid caregivers statewide.
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But a surplus of available jobs does not mean that the work of carer is respected.
Persistently low-paying jobs contribute to the current shortage of caregivers that plagues the country. The median hourly wage for direct care workers in 2020 was $13.56.
Georgia’s average hourly wage for professional caregivers in 2020 was $13.84.
“I think Georgia is well placed,” Marchese said. “Increasing these incentives for caregivers, providing better pay, increasing the number of caregivers in the state will go a long way to improving the quality of life for many of Georgia’s seniors.”
A 2020 Workforce Equity Study by Policy Link ranked home health aides the fifth-highest and home health aides the fourth lowest-paying job among the 25 lowest-paying jobs. paid jobs disproportionately occupied by people of color. Only dishwashers, fast food cooks and cafeteria attendants were paid less. Practical nurses were also on the list, ranking 19th.
Research has shown that low pay is often cited as the main reason why 50% of direct care workers quit their job within the first year. They also point to grueling workloads, lack of opportunities for advancement, and little or no health care benefits as additional issues pushing them to quit smoking.
Marchese said it’s a slippery slope once people find themselves in the unexpected role of carer and start sacrificing their own health.
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“One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to protect your own well-being so you can be a good caregiver for the person you’re caring for,” Marchese said. “It means taking time for your own mental and physical health and separating your work from the responsibilities of basically keeping someone else alive. And that’s a huge burden and something people have to deal with.”