Anyone who goes for a long walk in a large American city will probably encounter a person who appears to be mentally ill. In New York recently my family was eating at a fast-food restaurant when an old woman in a wheelchair came in and wheeled herself to the table where we were sitting. We moved to another table because she talked incoherently, smelled terrible and wasn’t fully dressed. Other patrons scattered as she kept moving around the restaurant. Twice she wheeled herself up to the ordering counter. I saw the staff give her a drink, which I don’t think she paid for. I don’t know this person, but I do know that she needs adult supervision—i.e., a caregiver.
How many elderly Americans need a caregiver because of mental or physical infirmity (or both)? According to the American Association of Retired Persons, 70% of people over 65 will need long-term services and support, but many won’t get it because there aren’t enough caregivers. This shortage, the AARP says, is going to get worse in the next decade. There will be a national shortage of 151,000 caregivers by 2030.