According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated seven out of 10 people age 65 and older will require some form of long-term-care in their lifetime. However, the AP-NORC Long-Term Care Poll 2013-2018 yields troubling insights regarding the financial preparedness of both middle-aged and older adults when it comes to covering these long-term care costs. The poll found that 47 percent of adults age 40 and over say they are not very confident that they will be able to afford their long-term care needs as they get older. In fact, only 29 percent of adults in this same age group report having set aside money for future ongoing living assistance expenses.
It is true that many seniors lack the funds needed to cover their long-term care. There are programs and resources available to help pay for in-home care, assisted living and nursing home care, but adult children and other family members are increasingly stepping up to provide unpaid care or monetary contributions. While these efforts can help significantly when it comes to minimizing long-term care expenses, being a family caregiver still comes at a substantial personal cost.
Most Aren’t Financially Prepared to Become Caregivers
Although adult children are often responsible for providing and/or paying for their elderly parents’ care, a survey conducted by AgingCare.com found that most family caregivers are vastly unprepared for covering these costs. The survey found that 63 percent of caregivers have no plan as to how they will pay for their parents’ care over the next five years. Considering the exorbitant national average costs of in-home care ($4,004 per month), assisted living ($4,000 per month) and a semi-private room in a nursing home ($7,441 per month), the stakes are high for American families.
Younger adults understand that saving and planning for their own retirement is crucial, but most people don’t plan to fund their parents’ needs in old age, too. Of course, this can cause immediate financial strain on a family caregiver, but it can also have serious long-term implications. Sixty-two percent of caregivers who participated in the AgingCare.com survey say that the cost of caring for a parent has impacted their ability to plan for their own financial future. Many are unable to contribute to retirement plans or feel they must dip into their savings early to cover unexpected caregiving costs. Consequently, this increases the likelihood that younger generations will also struggle to help their elders receive the care they need yet cannot afford.
“With an estimated 40 million Americans providing care for older family members, the survey’s results indicate a financial crisis in the making,” says Joe Buckheit, Founder and CEO of AgingCare.com. “Medicare only covers long-term care for a short time and only under strict rules. The burden of paying for long-term care often rests with the family.”
Long-term care costs are not the only expenses family caregivers bear either. “Many adult children not only provide hands-on care but also reach into their own pockets to pay for their parents’ daily expenses, including groceries, household goods, medications, medical co-payments and transportation costs,” Buckheit adds. “Americans who are already strapped for cash due to the rising prices of gas, housing, food and health care are hard-pressed to find ways to afford these additional expenses.”
In fact, the AgingCare.com survey found that 34 percent of respondents spend $300 or more out of pocket each month on caregiving expenses. Another 54 percent admit to having sacrificed spending money on themselves to pay for their parents’ care needs.
Caregivers Struggle to Bring in Money, Too
To make matters worse, caring for aging parents often impacts caregivers’ careers as well. The AgingCare.com survey found that 43 percent of caregivers have had to take time off work due to their caregiving responsibilities and 48 percent report that they are earning less money as a result of their new role. A staggering 25 percent have been fired or had to quit working because of caregiving.
One sandwich generation caregiver who participated in the survey commented, “I am unable to earn the income needed to continue caring for both my parents and my own family. I’ve not only given up my job, but also my dreams for now. It is very lonely and financially difficult, but I have to do what I feel is right.”
The Physical and Emotional Toll of Caregiving
More than half of caregivers (53 percent) devote 40 hours or more to caregiving duties in addition to their careers outside the home. The sheer amount of time and energy required to care for aging and ill loved ones is staggering. Keep in mind that most of these caregivers are not being paid for their services.
According to the AgingCare.com survey:
- 37 percent of caregivers provide more than 80 hours of care per week.
- 21 percent say they never get a break from caregiving.
- 36 percent say their breaks total 5 hours or less each week.
Family caregivers who do not receive regular respite endure consistently demanding, high-stress conditions that can foster isolation, anxiety, fatigue, depression and caregiver burnout. In addition to the physical and emotional challenges of providing care, financial concerns compound overall caregiver burden. Those who can’t afford respite care are often left feeling trapped by their situation. This perfect storm may cause caregivers to become ill themselves, incur further medical bills and take more time off work to recuperate. The truth is that most family caregivers can’t even afford to catch a cold, but many wind up developing serious and even fatal health conditions due to chronic stress and self-neglect.
Family Caregivers Need More Supportive Services and Information on Elder Care
This AgingCare.com survey confirms that today’s caregivers face a multifaceted financial dilemma that directly affects not only their finances, but also their overall well-being. Many adult children are struggling to pay unexpected caregiving expenses for their parents, saving less money for retirement, spending less money on their own needs and trying to make ends meet on a limited income.
Increased support for seniors and their caregivers is necessary to combat these monetary issues and prevent them from starting a dangerous financial cycle that persists for generations. Many families are unaware of local, state and federal resources that can help them make ends meet, secure respite care or even find placement in long-term care for their loved ones. To learn more about what resources may be available for seniors and caregivers, start by reading 10 Government Resources Every Caregiver Should Know About or use the Area Agency on Aging Directory to find the nearest resource center.