If you read this column regularly or listen to my radio show, you’ve heard me talk about my mother, who passed away a few weeks ago. The experience of helping with her care during the last years of her life raised my awareness significantly about issues related to aging.
I have already written about, and continue to report on, dementia. Next week, I’m going to tour WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute to learn more about the disease, including the warning signs and treatment.
Finances are another significant issue. My mother sold her house and was able to afford care in a private facility, but it was expensive. She died before she ran out of money. Americans are pretty good about planning for retirement, but not as efficient when it comes to saving for eldercare, even though most of us will need it.
“Nearly 70 percent of Americans who reach age 65 will someday require help from others to get through their day,” wrote Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP CEO. “On average, women will need help for 3.7 years and men for 2.2 years.”
The wealthy have enough money to pay for long-term care and the poor can rely on Medicaid, which provides for those who cannot afford care. However, there is a great middle of America that faces enormous—even ruinous—expenses.
Amy Goyer, a family and caregiving expert for AARP and author of books on eldercare, went broke paying for care for her aging parents. “I am a caregiving expert. How did I end up in bankruptcy?” she told the Wall Street Journal.
The answer is that her parents were part of that great middle and when their money ran out, she used up her own savings and ran up huge credit card bills paying for in-home care and related expenses. “I made my choices and did my best for my parents,” she told the Journal. “If it can happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”
That is fair warning.
Goyer is just one of a growing number of individuals who are providing care for aging relatives. According to AARP, “some 53 million Americans of all ages devote a portion of their day to feeding, driving, cleaning, paying bills and making sure the medicine gets taken by a loved one not able to do these tasks on their own.”
Eldercare is expensive. In-home assistance can cost up to $5,000 a month or more, depending on the level of services needed. The average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is close to $8,000, and that can go higher if the individual needs special assistance or memory care.
AARP’s Jenkins said the current system isn’t working. “The way America provides long-term care to those who can no longer care for themselves—be it due to illness, injury, dementia, or simply the cumulative effects of long life—is deeply flawed,” she said.
What are the solutions?
Individuals can buy long-term care insurance. However, policies can be expensive, and many people do not consider that option until they are already in need of care.
Congress has before it the Credit for Caring Act, which would provide up to a $5,000 tax credit for eligible family caregivers, but the bill has not moved.
Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has pushed for a single-payer health care system, which would cover the cost of eldercare, but there is currently no chance of that passing.
Meanwhile, more of us are speeding toward a time when we will need care. The Urban Institute estimates that the number of adults ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple from the year 2000 to 2040, to 15 million.
If we are lucky, we will live long enough to enjoy a few Golden Years. But for many, those relaxing years will be followed by a period of physical and mental infirmities and expensive care for which we aren’t prepared.