Caregiver workforce shortage predicted to get worse according to latest research by Alzheimer’s Association

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:38 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On Wednesday, the Alzheimer’s Association released its annual “Facts and Figures Report” that provided a troubling outlook regarding professional caregivers’ current and future availability.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia and is a type of brain disease, just as coronary artery disease is a type of heart disease. Alzheimer’s is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain that are essential for thinking, walking, talking, and all human activity.

According to the report, Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-to-80 percent of dementia cases.

Around 6.7 million Americans live with the disease, and more than 11 million people provide unpaid care, which would have cost the healthcare industry $340 billion.

“It’s affected me mentally and physically, no doubt about it,” said Mark Applegate of Bolivar, who’s been a caregiver for his 79-year-old mother since she got Alzheimer’s 14 years ago. She’s now in a nursing home in the final stages of the disease, and Mark is very familiar with the toll on those who try to provide for the needs of a loved one.

“The Bible for caregiving is called ‘The 36-hour day,’” he said. “Because it’s 24 hours of taking care of a loved one plus 12 hours of doing their own thing, paying their own bills, and trying to sleep a little bit on their own. I had a friend who spent years caring for her husband, who had dementia, and after he passed away, she went to the doctor, and he told her she had colon cancer. She had been so busy caregiving that she hadn’t taken care of herself and had stage 4 cancer. He told her that had the cancer been detected earlier, she might have lived, but she ended up succumbing to it. I’ve heard a lot of stories like that where the caregiver ends up passing away before the person with dementia.”

The research also backs up the toll on caregivers.

“They’re reporting a large emotional strain,” said Sarah Lovegreen, the Alzheimer’s Association Vice-President of Programs. “We’re seeing higher rates of depression and anxiety. And if we look farther down the line into the ability for them to get professional caregivers, we don’t have enough individuals who are able to provide that care in those more structured settings that might provide some relief to the family caregiver at home.”

The professional caregiving workforce is already understaffed. According to the report, 1.2 million more care workers will be needed by 2030, which is more new workers than any other single occupation in the country. Arkansas’ caregiving workforce will need to increase by almost 30 percent, while Missouri will need a 13 percent increase to keep pace.

Retention of those professional caretakers is also a significant problem. The yearly turnover rate for care workers providing home health care is 64 percent, and it’s a jaw-dropping 99 percent for nursing assistants in care facilities.

“I knew that was a high turnover position,” Lovegreen said of the nursing home positions. “But I, too, was taken aback by the 99 percent turnover rate. I think that just really demonstrates the challenge that the long-term care community has. We see individuals who aren’t receiving adequate training, so that’s an area we can improve upon. And I think the other side is being able to help increase the pay and make sure the benefits are good.”

“The traditional thing I see in the nursing homes I visit is you’ll have a core group of about five people who have been there for 10-30 years, and the rest of them are a revolving door,” Applegate added. “They do the best they can do keep them, but if you pay them $15 an hour, they can make the same wage at Sonic and not have people dying or acting out in the ways you see with dementia. And if they’re ill-equipped, to begin with, that creates more problems. Honestly, the training isn’t as good as it needs to be.”

Applegate also pointed out that of all the numbers the Alzheimer’s Association puts out, one still stands out from the rest.

“The biggest number to know is a big fat zero,” he said. “That’s the number of people who have survived being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

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