It’s a growing trend. Seniors are being looked after by their children who are also seniors. This trend is one of the growing lists of issues that are being caused by people living so much longer than in past generations.
I recently read about a 75-year-old woman who had always thought she would spend her golden years working in her garden and visiting her eight grandchildren. That didn’t happen because she is looking after her 99-year-old mother.
A SENIOR CAREGIVER
It’s an ongoing project. Now this woman who had dreams of a simple retirement spends her days helping her mother bathe, making meals, picking up prescriptions, and getting her mother and her wheelchair to and from excursions.
There is something that seems very unfair about this, but what else can she do? She never thought her mother would live as long as she is because of so many medical problems she had over the years. However, it’s the advances in medical science that are helping seniors live into their nineties.
This is why instances like this were the rare exception years ago, but now it can be expected that this will be happening much more frequently.
THE FINANCIAL TOLL
The money seniors have put away for retirement is often being used to help provide aid to senior parents. The woman I just mentioned burned through $250,000 in just a few years to provide 24-hour race for her mother while she worked taking care of a bed and breakfast. When the money was gone, she had to take over the duties of a caregiver.
She had to sell her house and downsize to an apartment in order to raise more funds to help support her mother. Although social programs help with some care, the senior child devotes three days a week to her mother’s care and at the same time chips in $1000 a month of her pension to help cover some on her mother’s costs.
Although her mother would be eligible for a nursing home paid by Medicaid, her daughter considers herself lucky to still have a mother with a sense of humor and refuses to put her in a home.
THE PHYSICAL TOLL
The problem with many families in this situation is that the senior caregiver helping an older parent often suffers from their own health issues. It can be a very stressful time and this added stress can exacerbate health issues the senior caregiver has and it makes matters worse.
They often find themselves isolated as they have little time to socialize as well as look after their parent. It’s been discovered that even when the senior parent dies, the caregiver is left with a host of health problems derived from years of stress. In many cases, they will suffer from high blood pressure.
It’s difficult to get rid of a good deal of health conditions once a senior has them, so even after the parent dies, the caregiver is often faced with medical challenges.
It’s critically important for senior caregivers to take breaks and stay socially involved as much as possible for the sake of their own mental health and well-being. Having regular medical check-ups and taking part in physical exercise programs on a regular basis is important.
The problem is, it’s not always financially feasible. The more time a senior caregiver can spend caring for their parent, the more money they can save that would otherwise be spent on home aides.
WHAT FINANCIAL ADVISERS RECOMMEND
Financial advisers do not think it’s wise to spend all of one’s retirement money on a senior parent when their costs would be mostly covered by Medicaid if they were put in a senior home.
Their advice is to have the parent put in a home and then help pay for the extras not covered by Medicaid.
The advantage of this is that it would not drain all the senior caregiver’s retirement funds.
It’s one thing for a financial adviser to recommend it, but another thing altogether for the children of a senior to relegate their parent to a home. It’s a very emotionally-charged subject.
Even if they do not pay for care and do most of the work themselves, many caregivers are still impacted in other ways.
Often, they leave jobs they had intended to work at for a longer period. Either that or they cut back on their work hours.
Either way, they are losing out on the extra income that would finance their own retirement.
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HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SACRIFICE?
Two sisters who were 70 and 72 both left full-time jobs to care for their 100-year-old mother. They shared a two-bedroom apartment because that was all they could afford.
One sister had tried to keep working when her mother was 97 but found it impossible to keep up. She was making meals, doing laundry, and running errands and it was just too much so she left her job.
Eventually, the mother had walking issues and was put into a home when she was 98. She had $20,000 and once that was used up to pay for the home, she qualified for Medicaid.
Unfortunately, the home closed and the mother had to be brought back to live in the apartment as they didn’t think she would fare well moving again into another facility.
It was at that point that both sisters had to quit jobs they loved. They had planned to do some traveling and many of their friends thought they were crazy for giving up their retirement years to care for their mother instead of finding another nursing home.
DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO
The two sisters had their own children and told them right up front that they were not to be caregivers for their parents. They both said they would not put that burden on their children.
They would rather just go into a home when they could no longer care for themselves.
So what does that mean? Does it mean they think they made a mistake? Does it mean they resent having to look after their mother despite their own failing health and well being?
This is a problem that is going to become even more pronounced in the coming decades. There is going to have to be lots of discussion and soul-searching about the best course of action for everyone who is faced with this situation.
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