By John Benson, Saludify
America is getting older as the baby boomer generation eases into its senior years.
This naturally includes the Hispanic population, which by 2019 is projected to be the largest racial/ethnic minority in the 65 and older age group.
National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) President and CEO Dr. Yanira Cruz paints a troubling picture to Saludify, regarding today’s Latino seniors, many of which live solely on social security and often are forced to choose between medication and food.
“Latino older adults are living longer but they’re not necessarily living well,” Cruz said. “What I mean by that is, we are hitting our golden years in economic insecurity and we’re facing a number of chronic conditions including diabetes.”
For the Latino population, this means a new set of challenges are on the horizon for not only those aging but for the family members who invariably will be taking on the role of caregivers.
Caregivers deal with their own struggles
A 2008 Hispanic Family Caregiving in the U.S. study revealed 36 percent of Hispanic households in the nation report having at least one family caregiver. This equates to an estimated 8,147,000 Latino caregivers in the U.S., with that number growing fast.
“That is a piece of good news — that we take care of our elders,” Cruz said. “We’re very proud of having our older adults in our spaces, and we value and honor them. We take caregiving as a role that we play that is part of who we are as a community and who we are as a family.”
But while this family structure is a positive, one negative is the fact many families can’t or won’t rely on outside services that could potentially help them fill their caregiving roles in a more effective way. The result is financial and health strife for those left caring for Latino abuelitos, not to mention kids still living under the same roof.
Senior Community Outreach Services, Inc. Director of Programs Rachanna Rodriguez told Saludify this is an all-too familiar scenario currently playing out in the Alamo, Texas area.
“The problem is the lack of resources and education about the caregiving role itself due to healthcare illness of their own or the fact that it just takes long [...] to try to coordinate one service,” Rodriguez said. “Because of the caregiver role and the healthcare illness of the loved one, they’d prefer they can get the majority of services – transportation, respite care, medication assistance – at one agency, which is not realistic here in our community because we don’t have all of that in one stop.”
Another major issue for caregivers, who often have to quit their jobs or cut hours, is the cost of medical expenses.
“We are economically depressed,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t have high paying jobs and many of our caregivers struggle to pay for out of pocket medical expenses, especially medications because they’re so expensive. They have to determine, ‘do I make the house payment this month or do I take dad to the doctor so he can get his medication?’”
This poses additional stress on the caregiver, as well as the rest of the family living with taking care of their senior.
Cruz added that she recently encountered a former Washington D.C. public school teacher who had to quit her job to take care of her elderly mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She also has two teenage kids, so financially the family is in trouble.
Said Cruz, “In addition to the financial constraints, she’s also experiencing some mental health issues because the stress associated with being a caregiver 24 hours a day is a huge pressure.”
It is not only about the added expenses though. The emotional toll of seeing a loved one struggle with mental or physical distress is high and real for caregivers.
Many of these caregivers in turn are not seeking help to deal with the added stress, whether it is because of lack of health insurance, cultural and language barriers, low income or the stigma attached to mental health issues among Latinos. The result for the caregiver many times is deteriorated health, depression and even more stress and guilt for not being able to care for their seniors properly due to their own struggles.
Younger caregivers, those with small children or attending school, can also face physical, emotional and mental issues from juggling many responsibilities in a limited time frame, especially when additional resources — like other family members or finances to hire outside help — are not available.
Older Americans Act
Something Cruz and her peers are paying very close attention to is the re-authorization of the Older Americans Act. A key portion of the act, which was originally passed in 1965, is the National Family Caregivers Support Program that offers a range of services to support family caregivers such as information to caregivers about available services, assistance to caregivers in gaining access to the services, individual counseling, organization of support groups and limited caregiver training, respite care and supplemental services.
“That program is worth highlighting,” Cruz said. “It gives families across the country the flexibility to care for their loved ones as they see fit. It allows for the older adults to remain at home for as long as possible.”
In addition to the Older Americans Act’s reauthorization, Cruz is hopeful it’s expanded in the future. Perhaps even following some of the suggestions listed in the Hispanic Family Caregiving in the U.S. study. This includes: training in caregiving activities, especially personal care and health-related tasks, such as operating feeding tubes or respirators; financial support so that they do not go bankrupt as a result of healthcare and related costs; support at the workplace so that they do not have to leave the workforce needlessly; and culturally sensitive materials that are also in Spanish if needed.
“What comes to mind is, in the next 25 years the world population will have more older adults than younger people,” Cruz said. “What that tells us is the dynamics with how we view and address society will have to change. So now is a good moment to begin and ask ourselves what innovations can we come up with to be able to assure older adults 20 or 30 years from now are able to age with dignity and enjoy their golden years? We’re living longer thanks to the advances of medicine but with that we have a lot of changes coming.”
Latino caregivers at a glance
Here is a snapshot of some of the most important key findings from the Hispanic Family Caregiving in the U.S.study:
• One-third of Hispanic households report having at least one family caregiver (36 percent). With an average of 1.83 caregivers per household, there are an estimated 8,147,000 Hispanic caregivers in the U.S.
• Just under three-quarters (74 percent) of Hispanic caregivers are female, with an average age of 43, caring for a loved one whose average age is 62. Most of the care recipients are female.
• Hispanic family caregivers tend to be in more intensive caregiving situations with 63 percent in high burden situations compared to 51 percent of non-Hispanic caregivers. And Hispanic caregivers spend more hours per week giving care (on average 37 hours vs. 31 hours) and provide a greater number of Activities of Daily Living, known as personal care (2.6 vs. 1.9).
• A high percentage of Hispanic caregivers live with their loved one (43 percent) — this is versus 32 percent of non-Hispanic caregivers.
• Eighty-four percent of Hispanic caregivers believe that their role is an expectation within their upbringing. Seventy percent think that it would bring shame on their family not to accept their caregiving role versus 60 percent of non-Hispanics.
• Caregiving is a shared responsibility: 82 percent say that they get some help from a relative or friend.
• Four in ten working Hispanic caregivers report making a major workforce change, such as taking a leave of absence, changing jobs, cutting back hours or stopping work entirely.
This article was first published in Saludify.
John Benson is employed as a fulltime freelance writer writing for local/national outlets. When he’s not covering news, music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his boys (basketball, football and baseball) or spending time with his wife, Maria.
[Photo by Rosie O'Beirne]