Caring for an Aging Population

26 April, 2015

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle Report.

Everywhere in the world, people are living longer. Studies show the average age of the human population is rising.

By the year 2050, an estimated two billion people will be aged 60 or older. And the number of people 80 years or older will have almost quadrupled to 395 million. That is the latest number from the United Nations' World Health Organization.

Caring for an Aging Population
In this 2013 file photo, a group of elderly men take a rest on their wheelchairs at a park in Beijing. China passed law requiring people to visit or keep in touch with their elderly parents. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The WHO says governments must prepare now to deal with an increasingly aging world. As people age, they may develop long-term health problems. These disorders may affect their quality of life and create problems for society and health care systems.

Caring for an aging population takes both time and money. The responsibility of caring for an older person often falls on family members. And this can create difficulties.

Gail Gibson Hunt is Chief Executive Officer with the National Alliance for Caregiving. Her group helps American families that care for sick or elderly family members.

What is caregiver burnout?

Ms. Hunt says some families experience what she calls "caregiver burnout." She says the condition can affect a person in many ways.

"Caregiver burnout specifically would refer to a caregiver having been under such stress – perhaps financial, perhaps physical, certainly emotional stress -- that he or she cannot continue doing the care-giving anymore. They're just exhausted. They are what we would call 'burned out.'"

Americans say they need several things to reduce the stress of caring for aging or disabled family members, according to Ms. Hunt. These things include money, medical training and sometimes just giving the caregiver a break.

"They typically will say they need a break, which is certainly something that can help with potential burnout. They often talk about needing financial assistance. They are spending, in the U.S., on average about $5,500 a year in out-of-pocket costs."

Which countries have the oldest populations?

In 2050 China will be the country with the largest population aged 80 years or over with 90 million. India will come in second with 37 million. And the U.S. will be third with 32 million.

Other countries with the largest populations of the 80 and older crowd will be Japan, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and the Russian Federation. This is according to the World Health Organization.

Care for elderly in U.S. lags behind other English-speaking countries

Life is good for senior citizens in Finland. Here, members of the Finnish punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat, all nearing their 60s, continue to rock on. (FILE PHOTO/March 2015.)

Ms. Hunt says studies have found that Sweden and Finland lead the world in supporting caregivers.

She says the U.S. is far behind other English-speaking countries in giving families support for caring for sick and aging family members.

"Almost all of the other English-speaking countries are considerably ahead of the U.S. in terms of the support that they offer family caregivers. In addition to the English-speaking countries, Sweden and Finland are very advanced in terms of their support to caregivers."

Ms. Hunt says Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland do a better job than the United States in terms of their support to caregivers. She says that all four countries have strong government-supported caregiver programs. Families can get financial help and resources to help them care for elderly family members as well as disabled children.

Cultural differences in care-giving

In some cultures, it is the family's responsibility to care for aging family members. So, even the word "caregiver" does not exist in many cultures.

"Well, in India, I think this is interesting. There are so many middle-class Indian people -- young people -- who have moved to Australia or the U.K. or the U.S. and the parents are still living back in India. They just send money back. There's, I think, an ongoing discussion in India of what's really the responsibility of the family. They never even knew what the word 'caregiver' was because it's just what you did."

Ms. Hunt says that it similar in China.

"And the same thing, actually, in China -- they passed a law saying that adult children must send money back to support the family. And they've started implementing this law now."

Ms. Hunt says that she found the situation in Japan to be far different. She says that Japan offers long-term insurance for families and they also have a tradition of family care-giving. But she says they do not have a group of care-giving organizations that work together.

Japan has one of the oldest populations of any country. (FILE PHOTO)

Japan has a lack of young people to care for its aging population. To answer that problem, Japan has sometimes turned to other countries to train people to work in healthcare.

VOA Learning English did a report back in September 2013 on Japan and Germany training Vietnamese to work as healthcare workers for aging populations in those countries.

Scientists in Japan have also invented caregivers. Recently, scientists and engineers from Riken Brain Science Institute teamed up with a rubber maker to invent "Robear." This robot is designed to move patients from a bed to a wheelchair.

No matter where in the world they live, Ms. Hunt advises caregivers to reach out for help if they feel they are suffering from burn out. She says it is important to reach out to extended family or to community organizations. She also says to take help, guilt-free, when people offer it.

The advice of the WHO health experts is simple: take good care of your health. Health experts say people should treat health problems quickly. People should not smoke or drink too much alcohol. The WHO also advises people to get more exercise, eat healthy food and get enough sleep.

These activities will help to keep you healthy and independent later in life.

I'm Anna Matteo.

And, I'm Mario Ritter.

Do you have the word "caregiver" in your language? If you were mayor of your city for a day, what changes would you make in your community to help caregivers?

Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English with additional materials from Lisa Schlein and the WHO. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

out-of-pocket adj. paid for with one's own money instead of money from someone else, the government or another organization

chronic adj. medical continuing or long-term

independent adj. not requiring or depending on others as for care or livelihood