As the boomer population grows old, women who are becoming caregivers aren’t worrying about only the adequacy of care for their loved ones. They’re also afraid of the effect caregiving will have on their own future quality of life.
That’s among the conclusions fourd in a survey, Boomer Bust 2011. The survey was commissioned by the nonprofit Volunteers of America, which specializes in finding affordable senior housing. It found that the number of women who are primary earners for their families has increased over the past several years. Yet it is women continue to provide the most spare-time care to loved ones. And a majority of women surveyed said they expected to become caregivers in the future.
Besides the emotional and physical toll of in-home caregiving, the VOA also said that the average 21 hours per week caregivers spend looking after a loved one carries a financial burden. “This is unpaid time,” the VOA said, “in which they might be earning money to provide for their own eventual retirements.” Caregivers who responded to the VOA survey said they had skipped vacations, missed work and used their own savings. And the losses cut the other way, too: A joint study conducted by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that businesses lose $29 billion a year because of absences, leaves and work interruptions related to caregiving.
Despite the sacrifices they make, caregivers are often unaware of the amount of money they and their families need for long-term care when a relative has to move into a facility. Up to 75 percent of people will need long-term care at some point, the VOA said, with men requiring an average of 2.2 years and women an average of 3.7 years. With the average cost of a nursing home ranging from $40,000 to $83,000 per year, it’s not hard to see how most women caregivers and their families will find that impossible to pay.
A majority of the survey respondents said they would like to see caregivers paid by Medicare or Medicaid so they could save for their own long-term care needs. They also recommended public outreach programs to make younger people (including younger Boomers) aware of the need to save for retirement care. And they suggested that workplaces have policies that allow workers to care for family members without being financially penalized. This would especially affect women caregivers, since women are more likely than men to work hourly-wage jobs that don’t pay them in their absence.
VOA President Mike King said, however, that the problem cannot be solved by small-scale efforts alone. “Local, state and federal governments must begin to make changes now,” he said, “to help current caregivers and future retirees so that the impending wave of 78 million baby boomers [turning 65] does not wipe out the finances of future generations.”