Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Elder Care Squeeze Play

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
By Laurel Kennedy

Laurel Kennedy is a nationally-recognized expert on Boomer issues. Founder of the multi-generational consulting firm Age Lessons, she has worked as a senior executive with Edelman Worldwide and Ketchum for clients like Kraft, Kellogg, Pepsi and Sara Lee. Kennedy has appeared on national and syndicated television including CNBC and Comcast TV, testified as an expert witness in Superior Court, and keynoted numerous industry and professional groups. She has won dozens of awards for her work, including several National Tellys, Addys and Silver Anvils. For more information on elder care, visit

Bet you wish there was more of you, and your day, to go around. That’s how most Boomer women feel these days, sandwiched between the constant and conflicting demands of a meaningful career, raising young children still in school, supporting adult children who can’t find a job, struggling to maintain a relationship with their significant other, and suddenly, taking on the responsibility for aging parents.

Note that in the scenario above, there is no time budgeted for “me time”, those brief breaks in routine and small indulgences like a good workout, a facial, or a mani-pedi that can keep us sane and help us recharge. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sacrificing yourself to care for others. But remember, if you lose your sanity or your savings, you’ll be no good to anyone.

Women represent the front line of caregivers. Our research for The Daughter Trap discovered that fifty percent more women than men provide elder care today, and they are literally doing the “heavy lifting” of elder care, performing more than 70% of the arduous Level 5 hands-on tasks. Why do we do it? Lots of reasons:

· Because people expect it.

· Because we’re trained from childhood to do it.

· Because it’s more of a hassle to challenge it.

· Because we want it done right.

· Because we want our parents to be comfortable.

· Because if we don’t, who will?

Career chaos

Often, we fall into the caregiver role as an interim measure, and before we know it, we’ve taken on the job by default. Consider if you will, that most women will spend 17 years raising children, and 18 years caring for aged parents. What begins as a stop-gap measure can literally put a stop to career progression. According to a study by the Society of Human Resource Management, almost half of businesses agreed that becoming identified as an elder caregiver can inhibit career growth. A sad state of affairs, when the AARP predicts that by 2013 fully half of the U.S. workforce will have elder care responsibilities.

Money matters

Career conflicts are just the beginning. The financial ramifications for caregivers can be devastating as well. Boomer investment portfolios took a dramatic hit at the turn of the century when the dot-com bubble burst. Then the recession of 2008-2009 took another voracious bite out of their nest eggs. Just as their portfolios are sent reeling, Boomers are forced to draw down on those same accounts to help support their parents.

Unfortunately, the same boom-bust cycle applies to the portfolios of senior citizens. Even elders who executed well-thought-out financial plans have, in many cases, literally outlived their assumptions and their assets. Who knew that 100 would be the new 80? Not the financial planners practicing in the 1960s.

The news is even more dire for women. The average woman will forfeit as much as $659,000 in lifetime earnings and benefits by caring for others. Part of the reason is that women lose 11.5 working years to caregiving, while men lose just 1.3 years.

Taking control

Fortunately, there are a few straightforward ways to take back control of your life, without sacrificing the quality of your parent’s life. Caregiving is a job and should be treated as such. Draw up a written job description listing all the tasks that need to be performed in support of a senior, along with the required hours and attendant costs.

Review the job description with your parents and siblings so everyone has a clear understanding of what it takes to keep things running. Decide together how best to parse out the tasks among siblings and identify support services for the remaining items. If no one steps up, then make it clear that two options remain: hiring a full-time outside caregiver, or hiring you full-time with all the attendant benefits you would be foregoing including vacation time, respite periods and contributions to a 401(k) or IRA.

Kid stuff

Even under this contractual arrangement, family members still have some elder care responsibilities. As family, they provide necessary emotional and social support to both parents and the full-time family caregiver. While not responsible for the day-to-day tasks, they are responsible for engaging the elder in entertaining and enriching activities that break the monotony of a physically-constrained life.

Assign the kids the job of keeping grandma and grandpa entertained. The benefits will be enormous and carry over into the workplace. One of the laments of managers about Millennials is that they are terrific in teams and terrible at one-on-one interactions. That can be remedied easily by growing up talking with elders.

Elders appreciate the chance to relive family history and share favorite anecdotes. Children learn a new appreciation for older people when they interact informally over games, the Internet or craft projects. The oral tradition can take on new forms as family stories burnished by time are captured by HD video cameras and posted on You Tube.

The panacea for being squeezed between conflicting responsibilities is to co-opt the people responsible for applying the pressure, and inviting them to become part of the solution, providing the time or money needed to more evenly distribute the elder care workload.

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