According to the just-released MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents, the nearly 10 million Americans who are providing care for their aging parents will lose an estimated $3 trillion in wages, pension and Social Security benefits to do so. The study, produced by the MetLife (MET) Mature Market Institute in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving and the Center for Long Term Care Research and Policy at New York Medical College, reports that the average lifetime losses are $324,000 for women and $283,716 for men.
The implications are huge. The percentage of adults providing personal care and/or financial care to a parent has tripled since 1994, according to the report.
"Nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 care for their aging parents," said Sandra Timmermann, ED.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "Assessing the long-term financial impact of caregiving for aging parents on caregivers themselves, especially those who must curtail their working careers to do so, is especially important, since it can jeopardize their future financial security."
Though the report finds that sons and daughters mostly provide comparable care, daughters are more likely to provide help with dressing, feeding and bathing, while sons are more likely to provide financial assistance, which the report defines as providing $500 or more within the last years.
But the toll for caregivers isn't just financial -- the stress contributes to their own health troubles.
All this is yet more dreary news for Boomers, many of whom already face golden years far less shiny than they'd hope for, with retirements likely to be delayed, or in some instances, canceled entirely because they can't afford to stop working, period.
Easing the Care-Giving Burden
Boomers need help. The report suggests employers can step up to the plate by making resources and programs available that can go a long way in mitigating stress. Doing so of course will ultimately benefit employers who have their eyes on productivity. Among the recommendations for employers: Provide retirement planning and stress management information and offer flex-time and family leave.
The question, though, is what can Boomers do to help themselves?
For starters they can ease the potential burden should they themselves fall sick. "Long-term care insurance is a smart, simple way for Baby Boomers to protect their assets and loved ones. And it isn't necessary to spend a lot in order to have great LTCI coverage. A solid, basic plan does the job and provides many options for care. It's better to apply while you are in relatively good health, too, in order to get the best rates," says Brian Gordon, president of MAGA Ltd., an insurance agency that specializes in long-term care planning.
"Flexible long-term care insurance policies can help mitigate financial and emotional costs and provide options for boomers to provide the best care possible for themselves and their families," he adds.
Three out of four people will need more than regular health care, says Marion Somers, Ph.D., author of Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion's 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One. "The high costs of long-term care add a financial strain to the physical and emotional toll that caring for an aging loved one already brings," she adds. When it comes to figuring out the best insurance plan, she says to be sure to determine what is covered and the level of coverage. "Ask questions and comparison shop where appropriate. Eliminate all excess and/or overlapping insurance," she adds.
To get going on your research about long-term care, check out the nonprofit Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education.
More Advice for Care-Givers
- Get help. Call your loved ones' Medicare insurance carrier to see if they offer any additional caregiver support programs or additional help for the member such as diabetes management classes, suggests Ross Blair, CEO of PlanPrescriber.com. Ask if care management is available. Also, reach out for support from friends, family members, and other caregivers who can provide insight to similar situations. There may also be caregiver support groups or agencies in your area, he adds.
- Take care of yourself. Preserving your own health is just as important as caring for someone else's. Take control of your own life by balancing care-giving with your personal needs. Don't be afraid to take some time out to nurture your interests and tend to your health -- mental, emotional and physical. Know the caregiver's bill of rights.
- Find out if you qualify for financial assistance. If you're one of the more than 70 million people who provide unpaid caregiving for a family member or friend, it might be possible for you to get a small but regular payment from the government for your caregiving work, says Blair. If the person you're caring for is eligible for Medicaid, a program called "Cash and Counseling" might be available in your state. Call or visit Medicaid to find out. The same holds true if the person you are caring for has long-term care insurance that includes home-care coverage. Call the insurer to ask about this benefit and any possible restrictions.
- Explore all possibilities. You might want to consider deducting your parent's medical expenses on your taxes. Talk to your accountant. "If you are providing at least 50% of your parent's financial support, this might be an option," explains Herb White, a certified financial planner with Life Certain Wealth Strategies. Expenses can include your unreimbursed medical expenses and in-home health care, among others.
- Save, save, save. Peter Maris, a certified financial planner with Resource Financial Group puts it simply, "Save more now -- begin earmarking more money for retirement. Save for longer -- remain in the workforce for a longer period of time and spend less now. Take away from discretionary spending or 'fun money' to have more money to stash away in retirement funds." Just get it done.