Family has always been at the core of the Latino community. Caring for family elders is a privilege as much as an obligation. As Latino seniors are living longer the caregiving role is expanding and lasting longer. Living longer is a wonderful gift, but with it comes concerns not just about health, such as chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer's but also with rising health care costs. This increase in longevity also raises concerns about the physical, emotional and financial costs to the caregiver. Many of these issues have Latino families increasingly turning to each other and looking to outside sources for support.
The population shifts taking place in the U.S. are staggering. As the baby-boom generation enters the traditional retirement years the elderly population will more than double in size from 2005 through 2050. Likewise, the Latino elderly population is projected to grow during this time period from 2.9 million in 2010 to 17.5 million in 2050 or approximately 20% of the total elderly population. It's projected that by 2019 elderly Latinos will be the largest racial ethnic minority in this age group.
This incredible growth will put increased pressure on family members responsible for caring for their loved ones. A 2008 Evercare and National Alliance for Caregiving Latino Caregiver study found that one-third of Latino households have at least one family caregiver, making for approximately 8 million Latino caregivers in the U.S. The same study showed Latino caregivers spend more hours a week giving care and taking on the more intensive caregiving needs than caregivers from other ethnic groups. Many have made major changes in their employment, from taking a leave of absence, changing jobs, cutting back hours or stopping work entirely. Ultimately, many are making themselves more vulnerable to financial, health and emotional distress. Despite these factors Latinos tend to view their caregiving positively, with 88 percent feeling fulfilled with their caregiving role.
While the majority of Latino caregivers may favorably view caregiving as a natural part of their family responsibilities, it's important to acknowledge that not all members of the Latino community feel the same way or have the same opportunity to be caregivers. Conflicts emerge in Latino families as they do in any family coping with the stress of caring for a family member. To alleviate the potential for this and support caregivers in this situation, it's essential to create and distribute bilingual resources that assist in providing the best care for their elder family member. This includes respite care, training, financial support, information on local eldercare services, assistance in navigating through the medical and insurance system and support in the work place so they won't have to lose their job.
A growing but silent concern for both elderly Latinos and their caregivers is the increasing prevalence and potential rise of Alzheimer's in the Latino community. The recent research demonstrating the link between diabetes and Alzheimer's, is putting a spotlight on the Latino community. Diabetes continues to be one of the most serious health care burdens impacting Latinos -- afflicting twice as many Latinos as non-Latinos in the U.S. This may be setting the stage for a possible health care disaster with astronomical health, financial and emotional costs.
The good news is that if this link is accurate there are ways to decrease the risks of diabetes and in so the risk of Alzheimer's. A healthy diet, regular exercise and early detection can help prevent or control diabetes.
The same care and preparation needed for positive health outcomes is also necessary for a healthy financial future for both Latino elders and their caregivers. Latinos are less likely than other workers to benefit from an employer sponsored retirement plan, and generally have smaller savings, leaving a higher portion of Latinos to depend on Social Security benefits for their retirement. Medicare and Medicaid only cover a portion of medical care costs, leaving the rest to be paid out of pocket. This creates a stressful financial burden for elders but also their families and caregivers. Many cover the costs of their loved one's healthcare by depleting their own savings. This creates a cycle of financial vulnerability and potential poverty, especially for Latinas who make up almost three quarters of the family caregivers. In 2008, elder Latinas had a 22 percent poverty rate. Financial planning for retirement and long term care is a necessary component for the Latino community and for all aging family members to have stable and fulfilling senior years.
Understanding the unique situations, the language and cultural needs of the Latino community is imperative for organizations creating and offering healthcare, financial and caregiver programs for the aging population and their caregivers. Already more than 80 percent commonly seek information from health care professionals and more are on-line searching for support and resources. These services will become increasingly important for Latino families and caregivers striving not only to ensure a longer life span for their loved ones but also a better quality of life.