Women Are Caregivers, But Who Cares for Them?

My first job when I was younger was as the activities aide in a local nursing home. Most of the residents in the nursing home were women, and they had great stories and volumes of wisdom to share with a young girl. What I didn't think about then, but what I think about now, is their back story -- how they ended up mostly alone, being cared for staff in a nursing home. I wonder now, were these women once caregivers themselves? Did they look after a sick parent or husband? Chances are, they were.

I never asked those questions but now, as a financial specialist, I still think about these women I led through activities at the nursing home so many years ago. Chances are the hopes and dreams of these women did not include living the end of their lives alone in a nursing home. Chances are, many of these women had loving families, and chances are that these women had no choice where they ended up at the end of their lives.

Caregiving by family members is a rapidly growing experience. A recent AARP study showed that there are about 42.1 million family caregivers in the United States (most of them women ages 40 to 60) providing care to an adult with limitations, and 29 percent of those caregivers spend 40 hours or more per week providing that care. This means that about one-third of Americans, mostly women, can list caregiving as an unpaid, full time job.

I know several families who are faced with the challenge of caring for their aging parents, and my family is no different. As I've seen my grandparents age, I've attentively watched the impact that it's had on those I love. Caregiving is a labor of love, but carving time out of your busy schedule, between getting the kids to sports practice, succeeding in your own career, and putting dinner on the table can be a daunting task.

Watching your parents, who may have been your role models and had a huge influence on your children's lives, lose their faculties, take increasing dosages of medications, and require constant attention can have an emotional impact that is hard to handle. Decision-making between siblings on such an emotional issue as how they will care for their parents and the delegation of responsibilities can cause strain on otherwise strong sibling relationships -- and to make matters worse, as women in their 40's to 60's grow older, many of them may be hit by the burden of caregiving again. Having cared for elderly parents already, these same women may have the added burden of ultimately caring for their aging husbands.

It stands to reason that among caregivers, some of the biggest complaints are loneliness and isolation. You may be taking care of your parents or spouse, but who is taking care of you? And it is a critical question. "Who is taking care of you?" brings us back to those women that I met in the nursing home.

The compound physical and emotional impact of caregiving over a lifetime results in a large percentage of women who need care themselves. Yet, nearly half (48 percent) of women age 75 or older are living alone, compared to less than one quarter (22 percent) of men. The challenge becomes finding the resources to get care for yourself after you have given it for so long. [AARP PDF]

I recently met a couple in which the husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in his early 60's. They had not done any long-term care planning, and ended up paying for the husband's care out of pocket by means of spending down retirement assets. These assets were originally designed to provide them income for living expenses as they got older. While his wife was in good health and had the financial wherewithal to hire professionals to help with his care, the question remained: where did it leave her? What if she needed care in the future? What sources of funds did she have to live on as she aged? Unfortunately, this is not highly atypical story.

The emotional and physical consequences to the caregiver are well documented. So are the financial consequences of not planning for these issues. With costs that can be upwards of $7,000-$11,000/month depending upon your location and the type of care needed, this can have a devastating impact on your financial life if you have not planned appropriately.

Recalling my experiences as a young girl working in a local nursing home, as an adult I now have a greater insight into the stories of many of those women, and most importantly to their circumstances. As a financial advisor, I have made it my mission to educate others on important topics that impact our lives and the lives of future generations.

The conversations about how you and your family will be cared for in the event of unexpected illness are difficult to have, but they are important, so I urge you to have them now, while you are well. I have made sure that I have had these conversations with my own family, and I encourage you to understand your options for protecting your family, your assets, and your choice of care by learning about the benefits of long term care insurance.

While LTC insurance is not designed to replace family, it can help to offset the cost and burden of care, and for many, will provide the choice of how and where they will receive care. There are several options available to find the proper level of LTC protection, and it is important that you seek the help of a trusted professional to find the right fit for you.

Registered Representative, a Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS) and a Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, NY, supervised from 140 Kendrick Street, C-1 East, Needham, MA 02494. Securities products/services and advisory services offered through PAS, a registered broker-dealer and investment advisor, 781-449-4402. PAS is an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. The Bulfinch Group is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. Life insurance offered through The Bulfinch Group Insurance Agency Inc., an affiliate of The Bulfinch Group, Inc. The Bulfinch Group is not licensed to sell insurance. Neither Guardian nor its subsidiaries issue Long Term Care Insurance.
PAS is a member FINRA, SIPC.
GEAR 2012-10017