Most people don’t like to think about growing old. But when asked, most Americans 55 or older say they want to do so at home. The appeal is understandable. Aging in place, surrounded by familiar places, faces and memories, can provide a sense of comfort and independence. It may seem a modest ambition, but the logistical and economic realities are daunting. Even healthy older people may struggle with basic tasks of daily life, so most of them will, at some point, require help from a caregiver, paid or unpaid, to remain at home.
Providing this care is a monumental endeavor, one for which American society is ill prepared. Already, around 42 million Americans are providing informal support to someone 50 or older, and many of them are struggling under the financial and psychological pressure. That number will only grow as the nation ages. Being an aging nation also means becoming a nation of caregivers, one that requires a new system of support.
For most older Americans, care will come from unpaid family members or friends, who contributed around $600 billion worth of free labor to the economy in 2021, according to AARP. That care is not, of course, free for those providing it.
Dwane Hodges is a 62-year-old educator in North Carolina who spent over a decade looking after various elders in his family.