The Caregiving Cliff

Photo by Jonathan Zandler. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Jonathan Zandler. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Washington Post recently had a series entitled “Caregiving: A Special Report,” exploring the many facets of caregiving in America. Some articles focus on individual stories of caregiving, while others have more to do more with the scope of the problem and social policy issues. An article by Richard Harris was intriguingly entitled “Heading Toward the Caregiving Cliff,” an allusion to the disaster that’s portended by the need for care outstripping the supply of caregivers.

It’s widely known that the ongoing increase in older adults with disabilities will require a tremendous investment in human resources. However, the elderly are not the only ones who are in need of care. None of the three cases that Harris profiled—an injured Army ranger, a teenager with autism, and a man with early-onset Alzheimer’s—were elderly. The man with Alzheimer’s has since died, but the other two are likely to require care for the rest of their lives, which in each case probably will be for decades. For each, the parents are the primary caregivers. One can imagine what these parents’ “Golden Years” will be like: faithfully caring for an adult child who will never become independent while they become increasingly frail themselves.

Harris reports that “[u]npaid family caregiving was valued at $450 billion a year by AARP’s Public Policy Institute in 2009, more than the federal and state Medicaid budgets combined.” A tremendous number of us are already providing care, and more of us will need to do so in the years to come in order to meet the needs of our family members. Whoever you are, your future is likely to include being a caregiver, being a recipient of care, or both.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at
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