Stress of Caregiving Hurts Baby Boomers’ Health, Jobs
OTTAWA—Between caring for elderly parents, raising children, and looking after their own busy lives, baby boomers have a higher rate of depression than the previous generation, says an expert.
Dr. Richard Earle, managing director at the Canadian Institute of Stress, describes this as a “triple-decker-sandwich generation” for the world’s boomers, a term generally referring to those born during the approximately two decades of strong employment and economic growth post-World War II.
“What we’re noticing at the Canadian Institute of Stress and throughout the research literature is a significant rise in mood disorders, including depression, in that baby boomer age group, which is 46 to 64,” said Dr. Earle.
In Canada, about 10 percent of baby boomers are still raising children while looking after—or just beginning to look after—elderly parents, he said.
“Then it’s not just a sandwich generation—it’s a triple-decker sandwich because they’re looking after husband or wife and job and the rest of it.”
Research shows that as many as 4 in 10 boomers are experiencing an unusually high level of stress which can lead to depression, Dr. Earle said.
About 32 percent say they’ve had to cancel travel plans, 34 percent have dropped personal hobbies and interests, and well over 70 percent say the balancing act is interfering with their ability to fulfill responsibilities at work.
There are emotional impacts as well—a feeling of not being able to find pleasure from things they used to enjoy, Dr. Earle explained, “and within that, not being able to concentrate, to focus on what they’re doing, making decisions, and certainly sleep disturbance.”
In Canada, boomers are defined as those born between 1947 and 1966. They number more than 8 million and make up about a quarter of the population.
Statistics on American boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are almost identical, except that the United States has about 80 million baby boomers and they are reporting slightly higher impact on their jobs than Canadians due to stress from home, Dr. Earle said.
He noted that baby boomer issues and the increase in the rate of depression are much the same worldwide, including in such diverse places as Japan, the Middle East, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Everywhere, “the core of the problem is very similar”—juggling the demands of caring for parents and children are causing stress.
In particular, Japan has an extremely low birthrate and a significantly older average age than almost any other country, Dr. Earle said. “You have fewer younger people to take care of more older people.” Japan has also been dealing with the boomer depression issue longer than other countries.
As the first wave of boomers turns 65, their needs have been prompting services and research interest in every area from health and lifestyle to leisure and travel, from art and technology to financial services and economic planning.
A recent study by the U.S.-based Hartford Financial Services Group, a major provider of employee-assistance programs, found that more than 80 percent of boomers report feeling moderate to high levels of stress from providing care or support to children, spouses, and/or parents.
Moreover, 46.6 percent said they felt worried about how caregiving is impacting their job, with 68 percent saying they missed work or left work early due to caregiving duties in the last six months.
University of Waterloo and Royal Bank of Canada launched a retirement research centre last month, noted as the first collaborative approach of its kind between academic researchers and the financial services industry aimed at providing solutions and advice to boomers for retiring planning and living.
At last week’s 2010 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences held at Montreal’s Concordia University, University of Montreal professor Jacques Légaré presented a paper showing that aging boomers will have to either pay for their own care or find support from sources outside their immediate family circle.
Prof. Légaré said that about 70 percent of elderly care currently comes from spouses or children. However, today’s boomers have fewer children to care for them. In addition, the rise in divorce, common-law unions, and blended families means that many boomers may not have a partner to rely on within a stable relationship as they age.
Meanwhile, average life expectancies are rising, putting further demands on society and boomers to create new support systems for tomorrow’s seniors.
The Canadian Institute of Stress is a charitable organization founded 30 years ago by Hungarian-Canadian Dr. Hans Selye, known as “the father of the stress field,” who published the world’s first scientific paper to identify and define stress in 1936.
The institute tracks trends in research literature and provides education to the public, healthcare professionals, and workplaces in Canada and other countries on earlier detection of stress problems and methods for controlling stress.
“There are so many things that catch our attention, quite challenging, disturbing things happening in this world,” said Dr. Earle. “[But] the world will work out well to the extent that we look after ourselves and our families in a more informed way.”
He recommends that baby boomers “get refocused back on one’s own family situation and basically on ourselves—not in a selfish way, but in a self-maintaining way.”