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Childless Baby Boomers Facing Unique Challenges as They Age

Siblings, friends and neighbours could be critical to caregiving model

CALGARY, ALBERTA -- (Marketwire) -- 11/06/12 -- In data presented today at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Calgary, Alta., Janice Keefe, Director of the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, pointed to the new and expanding role that informal caregivers have in supporting seniors.

According to Keefe, the availability of children to act as caregivers is declining over the long term and aging baby boomers are going to need new ways to cope.

The percentage of seniors without children is set to increase, and the growing mobility of workers means that those baby boomers with children may not live in the same city, since economic opportunities take those children away from their families.

"It is children who have been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of elder care in this country," said Keefe. "As the availability of these children declines, some of this demand for care may be met by siblings, friends or other relatives, but the state, the community and the market will also have to adapt to this reality."

Keefe adds that it is not always easy to rely on siblings for primary care. "It is one thing to ask a child to help with personal care," she said, "but asking a brother or sister to play that role can be a humbling experience."

In a general sense, the caregiving needs in Canada are increasing. As the boomer cohort enters old age, the hourly demand for elder care is set to double. At the same time, the percentage of seniors with children available for caregiving is decreasing - a trend Keefe says will increase more rapidly after 2021.

She adds that this new reality means that the support offered to caregivers has to evolve. Keefe and her team at the Centre for Aging, based at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, reviewed caregiver policy in 10 different markets.

In Australia for instance, the government provides direct to support for any caregiver - be it a child, neighbour or sibling. According to Keefe, Canada needs to start looking at options to support caregivers, regardless of their relationship to the senior.

Janice Keefe presented her work as part of a panel at the Canadian Science Policy Conference organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in partnership with the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Keefe is available for interviews live from the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Calgary. Telephone interviews are also available.

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