I was fortunate enough to watch my grandmother, Minnie Hankins, grow old and live into her twilight years. Minnie reached the age of 89. She was a dairy farmer, farm owner and gardener and she lived a life that was considered full and long for those born into the “Greatest Generation.”
I thought of Minnie as I watched the pilot episode of the PBS documentary series Caring for Mom and Dad, a project that follows caregivers and their loved ones while exploring both the challenges and joys of caregiving. The scenes of trips together to the grocery store and the doctor were reminiscent of my own experience caring for my grandmother alongside my family.
My grandmother’s lifespan is now considered the norm as Americans are living longer than ever before. Soon the old will outnumber the young and as my generation, the Baby Boomers, reaches retirement age, even more middle-aged children will be providing care for their aging parents. As much as it is an individual responsibility to prepare for retirement, many Americans are tasked with ensuring that a safe and dignified retirement is possible for their parents and grandparents as well.
Caring for Mom and Dad depicts the stark financial reality of caregiving. Many caregivers work longer hours, move from full-time to part-time employment, and even give up careers all together to continue to care for their parents. The term “sandwich generation,” which describes the generation of men and women who are stuck between raising children and caring for ailing parents, often while holding down a full-time job, is referenced more than ever. This is the new reality of increased longevity.
Although the emotional burdens of caregiving will always exist, there are ways to prepare financially. Many Americans are unaware that they may need long-term care or mistakenly think that long-term care will be covered by Medicare. Medicare, however, does not cover this sort of assistance and statistics show that at least 70 percent of people turning 65 today will need long-term care services at some point in their lives. (Fact Book 2015, USDHHS, 128). In the event that you or a loved one will fall into that 70 percent, planning and saving for retirement at a young age can relieve the burden your children may face in providing for your care.
As financial professionals, there are things that can be done to make the caregiving process easier for both the caregiver and the parent. Being aware of the signs of diminished capacity in clients can save them from financial and emotional hardship in the long-run. The inability to process simple concepts, memory loss, and erratic behavior are a few signs indicating that your client may not be able to make decisions pertaining to their finances.
Keeping an eye out for signs of financial elder abuse is extremely important as well, as these crimes can not only erase entire savings, but also put extreme emotional strain on the elderly. It is important to be on the lookout for inappropriate designation of power of attorney, a lack of control over personal finances, unexplained mailing address changes, and the inability to speak directly to an investor, to name a few.
As many of us know, caregiving is challenging and tumultuous. It can wear you down, but by putting ourselves in a position where we’re able to help ourselves, our parents, our children and even our clients, we can ease the burden of caregiving and have the focus of our golden years be positive and fulfilling.