Long Term Care for Aging Parents Could Reach $300,000 Per Person: How to Cope

Last Updated Jun 29, 2011 3:08 PM EDT

According to a study released just last week from MetLife, providing long term care for aging parents will cost the Baby Boomer sandwich generation $3 trillion in lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits. To make this exorbitant number more personal, the study estimated that, on average, a female Boomer will lose $324,044, while a male Boomer will lose $283,716.

Here were some other key findings:
  • Roughly one-fourth of all Americans are currently providing care to their elderly parents. Women are more likely to provide caregiving assistance, while men are more likely to provide financial help.
  • Caregivers are more likely to report their health as fair or poor, compared to those who do not provide care to their parents.
When you consider both the financial and health impact that providing long term care to parents makes, it's plain to see these findings indicate a clear threat to the future well-being of Boomers.

So what can you do to address this threat? You can't ignore it -- providing help to your aging parents is simply the right thing to do. And in spite of the challenges, it can also be rewarding, giving you a chance to reconnect with your parents. However, often there aren't any easy answers to address the challenges; you can find yourself in a tough spot. If you're currently in the trenches providing care, here are some ideas that might help:
  • Ask your employer for flexibility. Reducing your hours or going on a flexible work schedule is far better than quitting your job altogether to provide care. Many employers will have compassion for your situation, and some even have formal programs for family leave and referrals for support services.
  • Get help. Ask all family members and close friends if they can pitch in, even in a small way. Other family members might have skills or knowledge that can supplement yours, but you won't know unless you ask. And if you're the main caregiver, it can really help if someone else can give you a break, even if it's just dropping off a meal, getting prescriptions filled, or hiring a housekeeper to come in and do a thorough cleaning.
  • Get more help. Investigate the local governmental and social institutions that might be able to help, such as the Area Agencies on Aging, Age in Place, NORC, and/or your church. There are organizations available that can help by offering senior community centers, identifying home-based caregivers, delivering home meals, and providing employment opportunities.
  • Put yourself and your family first. I know this might sound harsh, but if you and your family are suffering, you won't be in a good position to help your parents. It's just like the warning you hear about the oxygen masks on airplanes -- you put on your mask first before helping your child. So make sure you spend enough time with your family, and get proper nutrition and rest. If your children are older, you can involve them in helping your parents; that way you can spend time together, and they may not resent your absence as much.
If you're not yet at the point where your parents need significant assistance, then now's the perfect time to have a frank discussion with them before you're in an emergency situation. Discuss the financial resources that they have and their desires should they need long term care. Although it can be hard to start these conversations with your loved ones, that shouldn't stop you from having this discussion. For some good ideas on breaking the ice and other tips on talking about long-term care with your parents, visit Genworth's Let's Talk website. (And for additional insights into long term care and family dynamics, read my prior post, Long Term Care Advice From an Olympic Gold Medal Winner.)


From personal experience with helping aging parents, I can tell you that a very common reaction is to vow that you won't put yourself or your children in this situation. But you've got to do more than just think about it; you've got to actually put a strategy in place to address the possibility that you might need long-term care in your future. Don't ignore this critical part of retirement planning! Get started now to give yourself peace of mind in the future.

Image from iStockphoto contributor Yuri_Arcurs
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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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