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MIT AgeLab and Transamerica symposium spotlights the growing challenge of caregiving in the US

The event highlighted caregiving both as a rising economic challenge and as an opportunity for businesses to meet new demands for knowledge and services.
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MIT AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin (right) and Transamerica’s Brian Forbes provide remarks at a daylong MIT symposium on caregiving.
MIT AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin (right) and Transamerica’s Brian Forbes provide remarks at a daylong MIT symposium on caregiving.
Photo: Lexi Balmuth/AgeLab

The MIT AgeLab and Transamerica shed light on the challenges and costs of caregiving in the United States during a daylong symposium held Nov. 12 on the MIT campus. The meeting, titled "New Conversations for a New Challenge: Caregiving in the 21st Century," brought together experts and professionals from academia, medicine, and financial planning to discuss costs, challenges, technologies, and ideas related to caregiving.

An estimated 77 million people in the United States are current or former caregivers. As the baby boomer generation ages, caregiving is expected to become even more common, with an accompanying increase in caregiving costs. A RAND Corporation study found that caregivers spend $522 billion and provide 30 billion hours of care annually to older adults. Caregiving also takes a toll on U.S. businesses, including $33.6 billion in lost productivity — an average cost of $2,110 to employers per full-time working caregiver.

The symposium coincides with National Family Caregivers Month, which occurs every November. National Family Caregivers Month aims to recognize the millions of Americans across the nation who care for family members who are chronically ill, elderly, or who have a disability.

“Rising costs and a growing need for caregivers are changing the ways we think about long-term financial stability,” says Bill Lloyd, Transamerica’s health director. “Those in the financial industry need the tools to help people find the best path forward, and Transamerica is honored to host a forum for this important discussion.”

The symposium focused on three developments around family caregiving in the 21st century: 

  • Caregiving is becoming a more common experience; 

  • Caregiving is becoming more costly, with new products and services being developed to address the increased demand for assistance with tasks related to providing care; and

  • Caregiving will demand new conversations with financial professionals and employers to help families, caregivers, and care recipients through the process.

AgeLab, in collaboration with Transamerica, has developed a national caregiver panel to study the personal impact of caregiving on a broad range of individuals who provide care. Data collected between March and September 2019 show that just under half (40.3 percent) of participants reported that providing care has hurt their work life. Caregivers helping with at least one basic activity of daily living (such as bathing, dressing, or eating) were more likely to report this adverse effect (47.1 percent). Data indicated that income and financial strain were significantly correlated. Participants with lower household incomes reported more considerable financial pressure than those with higher incomes.

“Providing care is both an increasingly common and costly task, but it is something that is rarely discussed outside of our most intimate relationships,” says Joseph Coughlin, director of AgeLab. “Having the right conversations about the full range of caregiving, from daily assistance at home to transportation, can go a long way toward being prepared for life tomorrow. The AgeLab is pleased to be collaborating with Transamerica to better understand the financial implications of caregiving in the 21st century.”

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