We’ve run quite a few articles on our AgingOptions Blog about the role of caregivers in today’s society. But this recent column from the Huffington Post really grabbed our attention, not so much because in contains new information, but because it’s written squarely at tomorrow’s generation of caregivers: the millennials, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. The column, written by regular HuffPost contributor Ann Brenoff, has a title that immediately piques your curiosity. “This Is the Biggest Life Event That Millennials Don’t See Coming,” it screams – adding this clue in the subtext: “The Caregiving System Has Failed You.”
“Bad News” for Millennials?
Here at AgingOptions we prefer to be positive about the future, not pessimistic, and we don’t necessarily share the author’s dystopian view of the life of a caregiver; but we have to agree at the outset with Brenoff that our fragile caregiving system is going to be facing some unbearable strain as the baby boomers age. That’s the thrust of this Huffington Post article, written to warn today’s millennials of the “nightmare scenario” that awaits them in the future. “You,” Brenoff warns her young readers, “are about to become my generation’s caregivers.” She goes on to paint an alarming assessment, based on a recently released AARP report, titled “Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers” (you’ll find a link to the 11-page report here).
“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here,” Brenoff writes to her millennial readers, “but you are about to get sucked into a hellhole unlike anything you’ve ever previously imagined. It will devastate you, leave you emotionally spent, make you physically ill and resentful at times. It could totally derail your career or force you to dip into your retirement savings ― and then one day it will abruptly end and leave you in a state of deep grief. Oh,” she adds, “and the government doesn’t really give a damn about any of this, so you are pretty much on your own.” Talk about a bleak assessment!
Extra Hours, No Extra Pay
Still, in a way Brenoff’s candor is refreshing, because she refuses to sugar-coat the burden awaiting tomorrow’s caregivers. “Your caregiving responsibilities are just starting to rev up,” she tells millennials, about one quarter of whom are already putting in an extra 21 hours a week taking care of aging loved ones. “To be clear,” Brenoff adds, “that is 21 unpaid hours ― while you work at your real jobs and/or care for your own families at the same time.” The AARP report projects that roughly half of today’s millennials will someday be providing care for an elderly parent or in-law, and about half of those caregivers will be the sole care providers, with no one to assist them on a regular basis. “As more people like me go not-so-gently into our elder years,” writes Brenoff in the HuffPost piece, “more of you will be asked to step up and take care of us. Why? U.S. public policy has lagged woefully behind today’s reality that 10,000 baby boomers a day are turning 65. And that burden is headed straight to your shoulders.”
Speaking of refusing to sugar-coat the facts, writer Brenoff spends a few paragraphs describing (in a bit of uncomfortable detail) some of what a caregiver is called upon to do. “Family caregivers today do many of the same things that nurses do, and then some,” she writes. “And much of it isn’t pretty,” including changing adult diapers, giving medications, changing catheters, and “hooking up your dad to a home dialysis machine because visiting health aides don’t come every day.” You will find yourself installing grab bars and taping down the throw rugs. “You will make multiple trips a week driving your loved one to doctors, waste hours in line at the pharmacy and spend hours on the phone with insurance providers,” says Brenoff, “all the while trying to juggle your own life, family and job.” Because the toll on your emotions can be so high, caregivers often develop health problems of their own. “Impatience,” Brenoff says, “may become your middle name.”
Is Uncle Sam Listening?
We won’t go into detail on the financial cost of all this to the unreimbursed caregiver, except to report that it is often a staggering burden, eating up (on average) roughly one-fifth of annual income in out-of-pocket expenses. For the average person over 50 who stops working to care for a parent, lost wages and benefits exceed $300,000 – earnings which typically can never be recovered. “To add insult to that injury,” says Brenoff, “a lower earnings history means reduced Social Security payments when you become eligible.” Better government policies could help, such as tax credits for caregiving or Social Security credits so that caregivers don’t miss out down the road, but those tepid steps won’t ease the psychological or physical burden – and there’s little chance on the horizon of that load disappearing any time soon.
With all this negativity, is there a brighter side? Not to sound like Pollyanna, but our answer is yes. First, many caregivers take care of their aging loved one with great love and dedication, even joy, knowing this act of providing care is a calling, as well as payback for all that mom or dad did for them. Second, if you’re worried about becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age, there is a proven solution in the form of a LifePlan from AgingOptions. With careful and comprehensive planning, you can prepare now to take that heavy weight of caring for you off the shoulders of your family – or at least make that weight far more manageable. The AgingOptions LifePlan is part of a revolutionary approach to retirement planning that blends financial planning, legal protection, family communication, housing choices and medical coverage (for the short term and the long term) into one seamless strategy. There’s nothing else out there like it!
A Fresh Look at Retirement
But don’t take our word for it: find out for yourself. Invest just a few hours and join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar soon. You’re going to hear answers to questions you didn’t even know you should ask – and we assure you, you will never think about retirement the same way again. You’ll find details here including dates and locations of upcoming seminars and a simple online registration form (you can also contact us by phone for help). Remember, the future can be bleak and uncertain, or it can be bright and secure, depending on how well you plan. Let us help ensure that your retirement future is one to look forward to. Age on!
(originally reported at www.huffingtonpost.com)
Photo Credit: flickr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)