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Study: The Baby Boomer Approach to Care


An estimated four to five million Canadians provide care for family members with long-term conditions. According to a new study, baby boomers are not interested in hands-on caregiving, and this approach poses new challenges for the health system.

Nancy Guberman of the University of Quebec and colleagues examined how Quebec baby boomers perceive caregiving and their expectations in regard to support services.

The study was based on 39 baby boomers, all in their 50s and 60s. The 31 women and eight men had family incomes that ranged from less than $20,000 to more than $60,000. Most of the caregivers cared for an older parent with a disability or a disabled spouse. Five of the women were caring for both a parent and a spouse or child.

The results of the study appeared online in The Gerontologist (January 31, 2012).

A caregiver . . . but not like my mother

The study found that respondents, in contrast to their parents’ generation, were reluctant to embrace caregiving at the expense of their other identities such as parent, worker, volunteer, friend or spouse. They juggled caregiving, career, family and other social commitments.

The daughter of one disabled parent explained:

But if my mother asks me to do her housework, to wash her fridge every week, to change her bedclothes, etc., I don’t want to deal with that, because . . . I just don’t want to do it! There are limits that I have to set and it is those limits that I need to negotiate with my mother because I am not ready to drop all my activities. That’s it. In that, I am a real baby boomer!

The study found the majority of interviewees refuse to put aside their professional activities to focus on caregiving. "We define ourselves by our work," one participant said. "So when you work at home taking care of someone, that means that you are not doing much of anything. Socially speaking, that was hard to take."

A new vision of care

In Canada, and particularly in Quebec, the post-war generation grew up with the welfare state, declining rates of religious practice, major changes in male-female relationships, high divorce rates, women’s integration into the labour force and very low fertility rates.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the new research found changing notions of family giving rise to a new vision of care.

As caregivers, baby boomers view their role as two-fold:

  • guaranteeing quality of life for disabled person; and
  • managing services.

In contrast to their parents’ generation, they are not interested in hands-on caregiving.

And to cope, they have high expectations of support from paid service workers. Respondents gave low grades to the services currently on offer.

As one respondent explained:

Monday she has singing class. Otherwise, during the week, there are the activities provided by the residence, but the activities . . . it’s cards, bingo, things like that. . . . We would like activities that will help them fight boredom, stimulate them, interest them. A service that provides leisure activities, travel, entertainment, that seems to be essential, and a service providing social integration.

More than half of the interviewees said caregivers should receive social support and financial compensation including, the possibility of a salary.

Someone who does not work, and then goes to help their parents, their expenses should be accounted for. Someone who is working and is obliged to leave their job then finds that they are having a hard time getting social assistance because they are caring for a parent, well they should probably get paid a salary.

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents said they have been forced to make adjustments to their personal and professional lives to care for aging parents. They were particularly concerned about the drain of care on their financial resources and its impact on their futures.

According to the study, the new approach faces major hurdles. For one thing, home-care services are seriously underfunded in Quebec. More importantly though, the new care-giving approach conflicts with current public policy that assumes family care as the cornerstone of long-term care.

Given the current economic situation, baby boomers may be compelled to rethink their expectations and take on elements of caregiving they no longer consider legitimate.