More than 42 million Americans serve as care givers for an elderly or disabled adult, according to a 2009 survey by AARP. During the same year, an additional 61.6 million people provided some type of care for the elderly. According to the AARP report, the estimated economic value of these unpaid contributions was approximately $450 billion in 2009, which was up from an estimated $375 billion in 2007.
In short, caring for a loved-one consumes time, energy and money. But according Cynthia Wilson, author of a new book, Who Will Take Care of Mom: A Guide for Family-Managed Senior Care, caring for a loved one can be a beautiful experience that can be accomplished without having to forfeit your family’s entire life savings.
InvestorPlace recently talked with Wilson to find out how to best prepare for taking care of an aging loved one. Following are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: In a nutshell, what is Who Will Take Care of Mom? all about, and for whom did you write it?
A: It’s a guide for providing long-term senior care at home for a relative or yourself in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the treatment and safety you expect when you age, your financial stability or your family’s wealth.
So it was written for two audiences — people currently providing care for a relative or loved one who is elderly, disabled or terminally ill; and people who want to plan their senior care and protect their families from financial ruin.
Q: You also have a personal reason for writing the book. Please tell us more about that.
A: I’ve been taking care of my mother at home since 1999. So I tap into that personal experience to illustrate how elder care can impact a family’s finances, even when you are not the person receiving elder care services. But it’s written in a way to show readers that we all will be affected by issues related to aging. There’s really no escaping it.
Q: What’s the most important takeaway you want readers to get from the book?
A: I want readers to understand that it is in their family’s emotional and financial interest to provide or coordinate a relative’s health care. Doing so ensures that the relative is cared for the way the family wants and expects, and that the family doesn’t lose all of its wealth because it avoided planning how to care of a parent or relative during their senior years.
Most states now allow health care providers to sue adult children to recover their parent’s health care debt and long-term care debts. We should all know and understand how that reality can affect families and our nation’s economic prosperity for generations.
Q: You talk about the “penalty of getting old.” What do you see that penalty as being?
A: Simply stated, we cannot afford to pay for everything that comes along with aging. Yet we are living longer, and we have to do it on fixed incomes while the cost of food, shelter and health care goes up.
Also, as most everyone knows, the government programs for seniors and disabled people are in trouble because when they were created, we weren’t expected to live as long as we are. The safety nets people thought they could rely on 20 years ago are not going to be there, at least the same level of support will not be there. And neither are the 401(k) and IRA savings people once counted on because people lost a lot of their wealth thanks to the subprime mortgage mess.
If that’s not bad enough, many older people are having a hard time finding work either because the jobs aren’t there or because employers prefer younger workers who may bring more technology skills to the job for less pay. Studies show that even people in their late 40s are having a hard time finding employment.
All those issues are penalties that add up.