Elder-Care Costs Deplete Savings of a Generation
The New York Times
December 30, 2006
To care for her ailing 97-year-old father over the past three years, Elizabeth Rodriguez, a vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, has borrowed against her 401(k) retirement plan, sold her house on Staten Island and depleted nearly 20 years of savings.
The money has gone to lawyers’ fees ($50,000) to win a contested guardianship. It has gone for home-care equipment like the mattress for his hospital bed (about $3,000 in all) and for a food service to deliver meals ($400 a month).
It has gone for a two-bedroom rental apartment big enough for herself, her dad and a home aide ($1,600 a month more than a one-bedroom apartment in the same building), and for a wheelchair-accessible van to get him to doctors’ appointments ($330 a trip).
Asked to tally the costs, Ms. Rodriguez, 58, said she had no idea how much she was spending. “A shower chair, body cream with no alcohol, new shoes,” she said. “You don’t stop and calculate. You just buy what you have to buy.”
Ms. Rodriguez is among the legion of adult children — more than 15 million, according to various calculations — who take care of their aging parents, a responsibility that often includes paying for all or part of their housing, medical supplies and incidental expenses. Many costs are out of pocket and largely unnoticed: clothing, home repair, a cellular telephone.
Adult children with the largest out-of-pocket expenses are those supervising care long distance, those who hire in-home help and those whose parents have too much money to qualify for government-subsidized Medicaid but not enough to pay for what could be a decade of frailty and dependence.
The burden is compounded by ignorance, according to a study by AARP, released in mid-December, which found that most Americans have no idea how much long-term care costs and believe that Medicare pays for it, when it does not.
Families have always looked after their elderly loved ones. But never has old age lasted so long or been so costly, compromising the retirement of baby boomers who were expecting inheritances rather than the shock of depleted savings.
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