For three days I have listened to speakers at the Elder Planning Issues Conference of the Canadian Initiative for Elder Planning Studies. At the Las Vegas meeting, they’ve talked about reaching the affluent boomer, the essential “family meeting” on end-of-life and inheritance issues, even how to negotiate elder-care decisions.
But missing from the agenda — and the issue I decided to address as closing speaker — is the changing lifestyle of the typical caregiver. The typical caregiver is still a woman — a wife, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, even a good friend.
Just 20 years ago, she was primarily a homemaker. She did most of her caregiving there, in her own home.
We bought a house with a downstairs “great room” created by tearing out a first-floor bedroom and used to house a mother during her declining years. Grandma was part of the family. Only an uncaring family would send her away to a “home.”
Today’s elders have a new style of aging. Most still want to stay at home, but there is increasing acceptance of assisted living and retirement home lifestyles that bring elders together and give them group support and peer friendship.
And with the population of frail, aged people in need of daily care set to rise nearly 40 percent in the next decade — according to a recent Wall Street Journal report by Sue Shellenbarger — expect to see even more outside-the-home care.
Why? Blame the woman’s movement. Blame California’s budget stalemate that already means low-income family members who provide elder care will no longer be paid even a small stipend for their services.
I could say it’s “throw the elders out with the bath water” unless they have the bucks to take care of themselves. Or unless their adult children have sufficient dollars to pay for grandma’s care and grandchildren’s college costs at the same time. The bleak truth is the attention financial planners pay to those who have the bucks often masks the lack of caring for those who don’t.
All taxpayers need to be concerned that in uncertain economic times, low-income and middle-class seniors and their caregivers may discover society offers little or no financial support for life basics. But let’s pretend times are good. Let’s imagine that all the elders have a bucket of bucks in retirement fund and other accounts, more than enough money to grow old in style. That still does not consider who is going to provide that care.
Shellenbarger points out child care problems get more attention in the workplace, but the emergencies that beset the aged — a fall, a stroke, the errant behavior of dementia — “tend to be more disruptive, forcing working caregivers to drop everything and rush to the scene.”
What do we have in place to help these caregivers perform a balancing act between workplace and home? Not much.
Shellenbarger talks about women who make a habit of working long hours and finishing projects promptly so they are ready when a family caregiving crisis occurs.
She talks about working with the boss about a time-off plan, if necessary. She suggests putting together a list of elder emergency contacts, from insurance plans to physicians.
Today’s savvy working women aren’t going to be caught in the daughter trap. Caught between inheritance and job security, sandwiched between parents and children, the adult daughter is going to end up making decisions that work for her.
That may be too bad for Mom. Unless, of course, she’s already counted on that in her financial plan.