Fading pensions amplify burden on caregivers of elderly, Allegheny County study finds
Allegheny County residents are confronted with greater demands caring for aging relatives and challenges in retirement because of fewer fixed pensions, according to a study on aging.
“The most compelling information in this study is about caregivers. It is a huge problem. There are people ages 55 to 65 who work and spend 35 hours a week caring for a loved one. That’s just not manageable,” said Heather Sedlacko, director of programs for seniors and people with disabilities for the United Way of Allegheny County, which helped fund the study.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social & Urban Research, the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging, the United Way of Allegheny County and the Aging Institute of UPMC Senior Services prepared the study, which surveyed 1,049 people.
The United Way is starting a program called United for Caregivers, which Sedlacko said is largely focused on helping employers understand caregivers.
“It is a situation that needs to be treated with the understanding and support that working parents, especially women, now get at work but did not always have,” she said.
Family members are an essential resource for older individuals with chronic illnesses and disabilities, the study said.
About a fifth of respondents 55 and older provide either personal care — eating, bathing and dressing — or routine care — chores, managing money, shopping and transportation — for aging parents.
Caregivers spend an average of 35.5 hours per week on such responsibilities and report high levels of stress, according to the study.
The number of caregivers is declining. In 1990, Allegheny County had six family caregivers for every person needing care. By 2050, that number will be 3.6, according to the study.
Money problems are another challenge.
Among people 65 and older, 26.4 percent of men and 15.7 percent of women still work — an increase from 2006, when 18.2 percent of men and 9.7 percent of women worked.
More than 11 percent of those surveyed said they expect never to retire.
One looming problem is the decline of traditional pensions, said Mildred Morrison, administrator of the Area Agency on Aging.
“That’s going to be huge in Western Pennsylvania. We’ve had people who have had middle-class lives. Their retirements are now less certain,” Morrison said.
The proportion of people 65 and older in Allegheny County is expected to increase from 18 percent now to nearly 22 percent by 2030. By 2040, that number should stabilize at 21 percent.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or [email protected].