Many adults aged 55 and older who have difficulty with daily and instrumental activities aren’t getting the help they need, research associate Jessica Forden of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, or SCEPA, said Tuesday at a webinar offered in conjunction with a recently released research paper. 

“We are specifically focused on adults ages 55 and older, because we are interested in individuals who are facing disabilities and difficulties due to conditions related to aging,” Forden said. “We use 55 and older instead of a higher cutoff like 65+ as some other analyses do, because the higher age cutoff ignores an important group of adults who also have difficulties but are not likely to qualify for Medicare or assistance through Medicaid.” 

Forden added that if the needs of this population go unmet, then there is a potential need for greater services as they age. Although those adults may not need nursing home or other care of that nature, they may need some form of day-to-day assistance.

“We wanted to make sure that we were capturing these gaps in addition to folks who might need a more intense level of long-term care as well,” she said.

Single people have a harder time accessing the care they need. According to SCEPA, 60% of adults aged 55 or more years who have a spouse or children receive some form of care, compared with only 42% of those without a spouse or children. 

“Now, this is because eldercare in the US is just so heavily dependent on the often unpaid labor of family caregivers,” Forden said. “In fact, family care is the most common source of eldercare, and in our report, you’ll see that in 2020, over half of adults who needed care got it from an adult child or grandchild, and 44% received care from a spouse. That’s compared to only 23% of adults receiving care from a paid professional.” 

Additionally, the data show that health demographics affect the level of care for those 55+. 

“When we look at professional care specifically, a wealth pattern is very apparent,” Forden said.

The least wealthy and the wealthiest among us are most likely to get taken care of, she said, as higher-income adults are more able to afford professional care, and those with the least means are most likely to qualify for public programs that will subsidize the cost of or outright pay for care.

“And what this means is that policies like Medicaid, community Medicaid, miss those in the middle class who likely still can’t afford the increasingly expensive professional care options on the private market and will otherwise have to depend on family care if they have folks who can provide that care,” Forden observed.

For additional coverage of the SCEPA report, visit McKnight’s Senior Living.