Baby Boomers Caring for Elderly Parents Discover their own Vulnerability

Posted by Julie Reynolds

Concord, MA resident Jan Simpson

Jan Simpson was a working mother in her 30′s with two young children when her aging parents’ health began to fail. Suddenly, and without any real knowledge of what she was getting into, Simpson entered a decade-long journey through eldercare. “It was a challenging time,” says the Concord, MA resident. “My father was living with medical issues and my mother had both medical and cognitive issues.”

Simpson soon found herself squarely in the sandwich generation – one of an estimated 10 million Americans juggling time, energy and financial resources in order to simultaneously care for children and parents. The experience, both profound and rewarding, revealed how much family caregivers need trustworthy advice and resources.

“My friends began asking the ‘how’ questions,” she says, “such as ‘how did you get the car keys, how did you keep your parents at home instead of in a nursing facility.’” After both her parents passed away, Simpson decided to write a book; part memoir, part advice.

“I crafted a list of 50 things I wish I’d known before I started down the path – legal, medical, financial, end-of-life, family,” she says. In DON’T GIVE UP ON ME! Simpson details her parents’ story, along with her and her siblings’ experience with care giving.

She also founded the educational organization Circle of Life Partners and regularly blogs to help other families facing elder care issues.

“Part of the lesson for me is how important physical health is,” Simpson adds. “I’m much more conscious of what I do now and how important it is to stay healthy and fit, because it does make a difference.”

Nothing could be more important, says Karen Hall, director of the Council on Aging in Stoughton, MA. “More than half of the chronic diseases that many older people face are preventable with good exercise and eating habits.”

While Hall’s agency makes prevention of chronic disease a priority, nationally it’s under served. “Of the total healthcare costs that we spend in America, only 4% is on prevention,” she says.

It’s never too soon to start. “A lot can happen between age 53 and 65,” Hall adds, noting the value of nutritious cooking, exercise and social interaction in keeping seniors healthy longer.

77 million of us are already baby boomers (age 46-65). If you’re counting on Medicare to cover long term care for yourself or a parent, think again.

“Medicare is the primary health insurance for people when they turn 65. But it’s never really been Medicare’s intent to provide long term care,” says Tobe Gerard, an insurance professional who owns an agency specializing in long term care policies.  “You learn about the gaps as you start navigating the system with your parents,” she says, noting that without special coverage the source of care is personal pay or Medicaid.

Long-term care insurance policies cover the daily care a disabled or chronically ill person requires. There are many levels of coverage and premiums are based on the benefits provided. In New England, the cost of nursing home care is more than $300 a day, Gerard says.

The national median cost for a one-year stay in a private nursing home is $77,000, according to the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). That cost is projected to climb to $200,000 in 20 years.

The ACLI estimates that in 2011, insurance providers paid out $7 billion in long-term care insurance benefits. “The biggest claims they’re paying out are cognitive,” Gerard says. “Those claims are long. They can run 8-12 years. I think that is the biggest fear. For people who live to age 85, one out of two will have a cognitive issue.”

Among the takeaways of Simpson’s care giving experience was the need for financial protection. “Home care is expensive and it can deplete resources,” she says. “I think the best time to buy long-term care insurance is in your 50s and 60s, when the premiums are best.”

Overall, we take better care of ourselves than our parents did, but Gerard points out how we will age is anyone’s guess. “I think baby boomers are realizing this first-hand as they try to piece something together for their parents,” she says.

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Posted by Julie Reynolds on Nov 25 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Lifestyle. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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