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Baby Boomers in a Classic “Double Whammy” With both college-age children and aging parents to care for

If you combine the college whirlwind with the outsized, twirling charge that aging often involves, you get a vortex into which many baby boomers are still being sucked.

Boomers at the peak of their careers
By 2016, many boomers are turning into their mid-to-late 50’s and early 60’s, typically at or near the peak of their careers, with dual, real-time responsibilities to aging parents as well as college-age kids. From my vantage point at the elder care agency, I have been privy to how this predicament has been impacting many parents and adult children who found themselves grappling with the vortex.

In The Evolution of the Aging Population, Jennifer N. Brok expressed it this way: “10,000 baby boomers entering the Medicare age every day, heralding a seismic shift in demographics worldwide. By 2020, there will be 115 million seniors in America.”

The women usually end up with the heavy lifting
Thus Sarah H. received me at her door one afternoon and promptly broke down in tears. We had spoken on the phone a day earlier when she recounted a story I was only too familiar with. Her father-in-law had died unexpectedly, leaving behind a mentally impaired wife he had been looking after. From that point on, it was the daughter-in-law, not the son, who had to put a hold on all facets of her life to take care of this 80-year old who could not be left unattended –not even for 10 minutes.

Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity had this to say: “The norms that told us when to get an education, when to marry, when to retire evolved when we lived half as long as now; In those norms, we’re raising kids, reaching the peak of our careers, and taking care of aging parents, all at the same time.”

An overwhelming turn of events
“She was suddenly in my lap the same day he died,” Sarah said. “When I called you yesterday, I had no idea what to do.” Then she continued, “She’s here now, with the caregiver you sent, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to afford a full-time caregiver.”

With two daughters of college age, and with Sara’s in-laws having –not uncharacteristically- outlived the bulk of their resources, Sarah and her teacher spouse suddenly found themselves staring at the prospect of having to spend down from paltry savings. And while most families manage to cope with the added responsibility, the hands-on caregivers –usually the women- suffer from stress and often neglect their own health, according to experts.

Here is Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., gerontologist and public speaker: “…for others, this longevity bonus will be fraught with pain and suffering. Large numbers of tomorrow’s elders could wind up impoverished, left stranded by an absence of financial preparedness and dwindling old age entitlements.”

Boomers with aging parents
Experts say the number of adult children taking care of their parents will increase as people live longer. According to a 2011 study done by MetLife Mature Market Institute, there are nearly 10 million children over the age of 50 who care for their parents. That figure has more than tripled over the past 15 years. And, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the demand for informal caregivers (family, friends and neighbours) is expected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next 15 years as baby boomers age.

Boomers, get long-term care (LTC) insurance
Life expectancy is going up: the National Institute of Aging says that by 2040 life expectancy for men will be 86 and 91 for women.

Medicare does not pay for long-term care at home or in facilities, and Medicaid caters only to those with measly net assets (e.g. $3,000 or less, depending on the state you live in).

To avoid a crisis, the adult children of seniors had better have a plan that assumes they in turn will live beyond the 80’s. Thus long-term care (LTC) insurance is definitely a vehicle to look into. For boomers, policies can be affordable, their monthly premiums akin to buying a car on monthly instalments. Naturally, the cars that one can buy can differ greatly in cost, and so can an LTC insurance policies, depending on your age, the amounts you envisage you might need on a daily basis, and the duration of policy reimbursements. For example, a policy could be for 5 years, for up to 8 hours a day of in-home care services, or up to a set daily dollar value at a facility, with or without a policy cap.

There are hundreds of LTC insurers, and acquiring a policy requires extreme diligence and farsightedness, more so than in buying a car, if only because the services it covers aren’t usually needed until many years later.

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