African-Americans are living longer, and the number of individuals age 65 and older will triple by 2050. This population boom has deep implications for long-term medical care and the needs for aging elders. The demand for caregivers is also expected to swell.
Despite the availability of nursing and assisted living facilities, historically, African-Americans have not been quick to rely on them. Some say that is changing.
“Caregiving remains an essential part of the African-American family, but as our families have become more transit and dislocated from each other, so has our need for nursing and assisted living facilities,” says Karyne Jones, president of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged. “However, the problems lie with affordability and access.”
The NCBA is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that addresses the needs of elderly African-Americans in the areas of affordable housing, health and wellness, and employment.
“At one time, more often black women were the obvious caregivers for senior parents and relatives,” Jones continues, “Now, with the majority of African-American women completing higher education and being employed, there has been a cultural shift in the role of automatic caregivers in the family — and we see an increased need for facilities and home-health assistance more than before.”
According to the Census Bureau, there were 3.2 million African-American elders 65 and older in 2008. By 2050, that number will total 9.9 million. According to the Administration on Aging, however, the number of family members who can act as caregivers will not grow by the same bounds. That is a huge issue for families where caregiving is, or will be. the only option.
The Family Caregiver Alliance defines a caregiver as “anyone who provides assistance to someone else who is, to some degree, incapacitated and needs help performing the daily tasks essential to living a normal life.”
Beverly Budd of Longmeadow, Mass., is caregiver to her mother, Oneida Frisby, who is 88. Budd tends to her needs such as grocery shopping and cooking meals.
“She had surgery a couple of years ago and my siblings and I felt like we should put her in an assisted living medical facility,” says Budd, who is the youngest of her three siblings. “I drove her around and found one that she seemed to like, but I could tell she wasn’t happy about it, and I wanted her to be happy.”
Now Frisby lives in a facility for seniors and those with mental or physical impairments, and is thrilled that she can maintain her independence, Budd says.
The caregiver role that Budd plays is a crucial one in many African-American families because acute-care costs often hinder them from utilizing assisted living facilities.
“Because long-term care is expensive, Medicare does not cover it, and an asset like homeownership prohibits participation in Medicaid, once again, affordability and accessibility are the major obstacles. With many families in the sandwich generation, it becomes a challenge for the entire family,” Jones said.
Cost is not always a factor, though. There are those for whom caregiving is not a choice because of the complexity of an illness that requires constant medical attention.
That was the case for Bishop Garland Hunt. Hunt’s father died in 2001 at age 75, from complications of dementia. Prior to that though, Hunt says, he and his wife decided to place his father in a nursing facility.
“He did live with us for a while, but it became clear that he needed 24-hour supervision,” says Hunt, who is a pastor, and president of a national prison ministry called Prison Fellowship, “He got out a few times, and in one of those instances he was found near a creek. That could have been a tragic situation.”
Budd and her siblings are fortunate in that, other than osteoarthritis, their mother has no major ailments and is exceptionally alert and spry for an octogenarian.
“Mom is an amazing woman,” Budd gushes.
For families who are not as fortunate as Budd’s, however, the true test will be finding an affordable and feasible course of care as their loved ones age.