The High Cost of Parent Care
By Martin Brown
Ask single mom Stephanie Black. She knows, after three years of caring for her mom, Evelyn, who died in March of this year. “I was like so many other children with elderly parents,” Stephanie explains, “I’d hear the stories of individuals and families hard hit by the cost of eldercare and I’d think,’That won’t happen to me.’”
But it does happen—as it did for Stephanie Black, and millions of women just like her. According to a recent report in USA Today, “The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP have estimated that 61% of people who voluntarily care for the elderly — in most cases, their own relatives — are women.”
Adding to this heavy emotional and financial burden the study also cited that, “For a typical unpaid caregiver who has a regular job, the care required of an elderly relative forces her to cut the hours she works at her regular job by about 41 percent, thereby shrinking her pay and benefits.”
The AARP survey results showed that women, who are identified in the study as “unpaid caregivers,” typically contribute an average of $2,400 per year to provide for supplemental expenses in the care of a parent, or other family member.”
“I was not at all prepared for this,” Stephanie, who divorced seven years ago, and now on her own is raising a 12 year-old daughter and a 10 year-old son, explained. “It’s very odd to imagine your mom or dad needing so much care, but when someone that close to you has no where else to turn, what else are you going to do?”
Stephanie’s mom had a running battle with emphysema, a condition in which the air sacs of the lungs are damaged, causing breathlessness. “It just wore her down and made her susceptible to a bunch of other illnesses,” Stephanie says.
Since Evelyn was in her late seventies during her years of living with her daughter, there was of course state and Federal assistance through a variety of programs. But as Stephanie explains, “Your options are limited and none are ideal. I don’t doubt that there are children willing to dump their parents in the first facility that they can find, but for hundreds of thousands of us, that is just not an acceptable alternative. Besides, to live here with us and to see her grandchildren every day was my mom’s greatest joy. In the last few years of her life I could not bare to take that away from her.”
Stephanie’s thought, echoed by so many single women who have found themselves in the same predicament was, “What could I have done to be better prepared?”
As experts in eldercare will tell you, there is not much you can do to get yourself financially prepared, emotionally prepared is another issue. Reading the stories is an academic exercise, trying to give needed care and support to a beloved parent is another experience entirely.
Financially there are three important steps you can take:
First, talk to your parents about their future financial needs.
Countless thousands of families put this off and regret that they did. Once care is needed, that’s when the issue of money comes up, and it is often to late to do much to help the situation. So take a deep breath and have a loving conversation about available resources.
Second, encourage planning.
Whether it’s supplemental long term care insurance policies, or other means of support, think of investing a small amount now that could create large savings in the not too distant future.
Third, take an inventory together of their financial assets.
It is not at all uncommon for seniors to have assets that have been overlooked. From property equity, to credit union savings accounts, and life insurance policies, there are resources that simply get overlooked.
“I don’t for a minute regret the three years my mom lived with me. They are some of my most precious memories of her,” says Stephanie. “But the financial toll will take several years to recover from. I wish that, as a family, we had done some better planning before she ever became ill. It’s something everyone with an elderly parents can and should do sooner, rather than later.”
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