Carolyn was just beginning to excel in her career when her father died after a long battle with cancer. Her mom, Donna, who was several years younger than her dad, appeared to be in good health but had been diagnosed with the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis (MS). Fortunately because Carolyn’s father had retired as an executive from a global firm, Carolyn’s mother was left quite financially comfortable, thus there was little worry about future care needs.
At the time, Carolyn was excelling in her career, earning a good living as a business development representative for a commercial construction firm. She was well on her way to becoming one of the firm’s top sales reps.
As the years passed, Donna’s MS progressed to the point that she needed a wheelchair to get around. Eventually, she hired a caregiver to provide assistance a few days a week. Carolyn continued to excel in her career, and was able to help out on weekends and evenings but nothing enough to interfere with her job. Until Donna’s condition worsened.
Before long, a daily caregiver was needed, then around-the-clock help. One day the caregiver failed to show up, and they discovered the woman had stolen several pieces of fine jewelry as well as some family heirlooms.
Replacing the caregiver became an absolute nightmare, with a variety of caretakers coming and going. Eventually, the issues became so significant that Carolyn was forced to give up her job and become her mother’s sole caregiver.
Carolyn’s story is simply one example of a growing trend that is not likely to stop anytime soon—as a matter of fact, it’s predicted to intensify. It’s a trend that is causing women, in particular, to take time from their careers to care for their elderly parents and, in increasing numbers, simply leave their careers.
Of the 41.3 million eldercare providers in the civilian, non-professional population, 56% are women according to the Bureau of Labor’s American Time Use Study. Many of these non-professional caregivers have reduced their work hours, but others have been affected so much that they, like Carolyn, leave their jobs in order to provide necessary care.
The challenge is only intensifying with the number of people needing elder care continuing to grow rapidly as the population ages. Each day 10,000 boomers turn 65. By 2020 there will be 56 million people 65 and older, and over the next 30 years the population of older adults will nearly double—growing to 88 million. The percentage with the largest increase will be those 85 and older.
The Emotional and Financial Cost
In addition to the cost of stress and change of lifestyle, there is also the cost of lost wages. For women, the total individual amount of lost wages due to leaving the labor force early because of caregiving responsibilities equals $142,693. But it doesn’t end there. Another estimated impact of caregiving on lost Social Security benefits is $131,351, plus a conservative estimated impact on pensions of approximately $50,000.
In all, the total cost impact of caregiving on the female caregiver who leaves her job is $324,044. This is an estimate, according to research from the MetLife Mature Market Institute in partnership with the National Alliance for Caregiving and the Center for Long Term Care Research and Policy at New York Medical College.
According to a 2017 Cost of Care Survey by Genworth, a long term care insurance company, a full-time health aide costs, on average, $49,000 a year, thus many families simply can’t afford to hire full-time health aides. And while there are numerous situations in which reputable and trustworthy caregivers provide excellent care, and while certainly not all individuals who hire help will experience issues similar to those Carolyn’s mother experienced, there are things to consider beyond merely the financials. This is why a family member often takes on the role of caregiver.
Additionally, when extensive care is required and elders are required to move to a facility, there are even more factors to be managed. When you add distance to the situation—all family members live miles away from the aging parent—that complicates things even further. In some cases, a child will actually quit their job and move to the parent’s location to take over the challenging issues. But there are alternatives.
I personally was faced with this dilemma when my 97-year-old father was hospitalized in Florida and I lived in Dallas. After juggling my business responsibilities, I would fly to Florida weekly to deal with my father’s situation. When it became apparent he would not be able to go home, but would need to be moved to a care facility, I was introduced to the option of hiring a Certified Aging Life Care Manager®.
In many ways, this became my lifesaver. These professionals work solely for the client and their family to totally manage the patient’s care. They are health advocates and resource experts who have the expertise to guide the family with relatively anything regarding the aging. The cost ranges from $75/hour to $200/hour, depending on geographical area.
“Half of what I do is follow up with doctor’s offices and home care agencies,” said Liz Barlowe, president of Barlowe and Associates in Seminole, Florida—the care manager I used. “We make sure doctors communicate with each other and coordinate with all the health care providers. We assess an individual’s needs and make care recommendations, be it home care or facility care and the level of care one might need, based on the client’s needs and budget. Part of what we do is to determine a plan that is most cost effective as well as appropriate for that individual.”
One of my personal testaments to the value of this service is that one day I received a call from Liz telling me the hospital was going to release my father without doing a “swallow test.” What was that and why was that important I asked?
My father had been admitted to the hospital because he had been unable to swallow, and without doing this test we could not be sure he was healed. If he couldn’t swallow, he would have to be tube fed. Fortunately, Liz caught this, and they confirmed that my father was ready to be released. Certainly this is something I would have had no knowledge of on my own.
For more information on these services, you can check the national organization of Aging Life Care Managers® website.
If care management isn’t affordable and you need to coordinate on your own, here are a few recommendations from Ms. Barlowe:
- Be sure to have a good relationship with your parent’s physician and staff and request updates after each doctor visit. Get a visit summary.
- Make sure the updates are shared with every doctor/specialist that your parent is dealing with.
- Always utilize a licensed home care agency (be particularly sure to check into this if you live outside of the patient’s community). Ask for a copy of the license. Each state differs, but you can check with your state’s agency that oversees the licensing of home care agencies. The average cost is $6,000/month to reside in a care facility.
- Have a relationship with an attorney—preferably a certified elder law attorney.
- Be sure your parent’s Power of Attorney is updated and can be used if necessary.
- Have conversations with your elderly loved ones ahead of time to identify their wants and needs. What hospital they would prefer, etc.
- In the U.S., If you’re considering Medicaid, know that it is a limited resource depending on the respective state.
Caregiving can have not only a tremendous financial impact, but it is also emotionally and physically stressful. The impact is very real.
Although some major companies are beginning to find ways to assist those facing elder care issues, the bulk of the responsibility becomes strictly personal.
What’s Being Done to Help
The RAISE Family Caregivers Act was signed into law on January 23, 2018. It directs the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop and maintain a national strategy to recognize and support the more than 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. HHS will have 18 months to develop its strategy, with annual updates to follow. But this is strategy, not financial aid.
There is proposed legislation called the Credit for Caring Act which would create a federal, nonrefundable credit up to $3,000 for family caregivers who work while also helping their parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities or other loved ones. The bill was introduced in 2017 and appears to still be pending.
As the old adage says, forewarned is forearmed, so knowing this trend is already here and growing exponentially, if you’re a woman who is 50 years of age or more, start thinking about how you will handle the aging caregiver situation in your own life. Without a doubt, it will have major impact.