When you think about how your retirement years will go, you probably envision taking it easy and maybe picking up a new hobby. What you probably don’t envision is spending years – maybe decades—caring for your parents. With Americans living longer and longer though, you may very well be doing just that. A Fargo elder law attorney at German Law Group discusses what it means when your retirement is devoted to caring for your parents.
The New Phenomenon
Experts tell us that there is a new phenomenon in the United States that involves adult children in their 60s and 70s who are spending their retirement years caring for parents who are in their 90s and beyond. While adult children have long taken care of aging parents, the difference now is that they are doing so for considerably longer. Thanks to advances in science and medicine coupled with a better standard of living, Americans now have an average life expectancy of almost double that of their ancestors who lived here a century ago. While that may be a great thing overall, it does create a unique situation for aging parents and their aging children.
Lynda Faye’s Story
The New York Times ran an article not long ago that perfectly illustrates this new phenomenon well. According to that article, Lynda Faye once planned to spend her retirement gardening in Amherst, Massachusetts and visiting her eight grandchildren. What she did not plan to do during her “Golden Years” is care for her frail elderly mother. The truth is that Ms. Faye, who herself is now 75, didn’t believe that her mother, Yetta Meisel, would live this long. Aside from difficulty walking and some cognitive impairment her widowed mother is still going strong at 99 years old despite having years of painful stomach ailments and arthritis..
“People in their late 60s and early 70s thought this would be a time of life when some of their responsibilities would drop off,” says Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Instead, they are now “aging together.”
There has also been a financial toll to her mother’s unexpected longevity. In 2001, Ms. Faye, an only child, persuaded her parents to move to Amherst from Rochester, N.Y. They paid for an addition to Ms. Faye’s home, where they intended to live. Instead, her parents moved into a three-bedroom condominium nearby. Ms. Faye and her husband, who is 77, turned the addition into a bed-and-breakfast suite since her parents weren’t using it. When her father passed away five years ago, her mother qualified for a state program that paid some of the costs of home aides. While Ms. Faye ran her B&B, she paid for round-the-clock care for Mrs. Meisel and her mother’s other expenses by dipping into a nest egg of about $250,000 that her father left. Although that may seem like a significant nest egg, it was completely depleted within a few years. Ultimately, Ms. Faye sold her home and moved into the condo her parents bought. Her mother moved into a one-bedroom unit in the same building.
With the nest egg gone, Ms. Faye now cares for her mother three days a week, and Mrs. Meisel’s Social Security and the state program pay the cost of the balance of her care. Nevertheless, Ms. Faye finds herself chipping in from a $1,000 monthly pension she receives from a government administrative job to pay for her mother’s other monthly expenses. Ms. Faye’s mother would be eligible for nursing home care paid by Medicaid given her lack of assets; however, Ms. Faye considers herself “incredibly fortunate” to have a mother with a good sense of humor and who thanks her regularly and doesn’t want to put her in a nursing home.
What Do the Experts Say?
Dr. Boerner is studying the relationships of 120 parents who are 90 and older and whose children are 65 and older. She found that many late-in-life caregivers, typically daughters, suffer from their own failing health, which can worsen with the stress, physical tasks and isolation that often accompany caregiving. And the financial picture can become dire. “When parents outlive their resources, the child spends resources meant for their own later life,” Dr. Boerner said. If the relationship between parent and adult child is not a particularly good one, it can add additional stress and potentially impact the quality of care.
One study found that married daughters who cared for their mothers were more likely than non-caregivers to become depressed and to develop high blood pressure. Single men had higher incidences of heart problems than non-caregivers. Making matters worse is the fact that even after the parent died, the negative health impacts persisted.
Contact a Fargo Elder Law Attorney
Please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about elder law issues, contact a Fargo elder law attorney at German Law Group by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.