Caring for the Elderly From the Home

As part of an ongoing CBS investigation of the crisis in elder care, Thalia Assuras reports on those who care for the aging at home, often at great personal and financial expense and the pressure that is building on Congress to provide some relief for those caregivers.

Sixteen years ago Carolyn Johnson gave up her job and her home to take care of her mother Florence. At 81 the frailties of Florence’s age are compounded by Multiple Sclerosis. She can’t bathe or clothe herself and needs someone with her all the time.

"They wanted to put her in a nursing home initially, but I resisted that. And the trade-off has been, she's lived longer." Carolyn shared as she combed her mother’s hair.

Many Americans agree with Carolyn’s decision. Today, one in four U-S households must find care for an elderly relative, and the majority of them are choosing to take care of their relative at home.

Carolyn Johnson admits, "I'm always on call for whatever her needs might be."

But that comes at a very real cost. Carolyn’s care in shambles and her income has fallen

From $40,000 a year to just $6,000. This is very typical and a recent study found home caregivers like Carolyn typically lose a staggering 650,000 dollars in missed wages and social security and pension benefits.

"Care giving has become my career," Carolyn says.

And because it’s quickly becoming the career of so many Americans, Washington is starting to

face the issue. There are some proposals on Capitol Hill that might help. Among them, an administration plan earmarking $125-million for support services and a $3000-a-year tax credit for caregivers.

"Those are great proposals," says Janice Jackson of The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. "They are a step in the right direction, but by no means would they address the entire long-term care problem."

Home care advocate Janice Jackson says much more is needed to fund relief for the caregiver and home aide services because Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover home care giving.

"There is more public funding, particularly federal funding, for nursing home care than there is for care in the home," she says. When asked if that makes sense, Janice replies "No! It's backwards. It's backwards. People want to stay at home. It allows them to remain independent."

Independence is something that 81-year-old Betty Herbst is not about to give up, despite her fight with

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Betty’s daughter Mary says, "Some days, it's overwhelming. You need to be in five places at once,"

Mary is able to care for her mother with help from her employer AT&T. She gets flexible hours without being penalized. "If something happens and I call over and say I gotta go, there's no questions asked,"

But that’s the exception. Less than one-quarter of large companies provide elder care assistance of some sort, and that leave Carolyn Johnson and millions of others like her feeling that while they’re caring for loved ones, no one’s caring for them.

Read Part I of this story: Nursing Homes in Trouble

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