The Financial and Familial Price of Aging

On July 28, 2013, CNN aired a thought-provoking program on the financial and emotional cost of caring for aging parents and grandparents.  The program, Inside Man, delved into the realities of retirement, health, and aging.  As many Americans live longer, many baby boomers are facing the challenge of caring for their elderly parents, while managing their own aging bodies, health concerns, financial issues and family problems.  According to the program, 70 percent of Americans will need some type of long-term care in their lifetime.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that in 2030, there will be 71 million baby boomers who are at least 65 years old, and the number of people 65 years old and older will rise by 101 percent between the years 2000 and 2030.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that many adult children who care for their elderly parents find the task emotionally, physically and financially draining. Many of these adult children will neglect their own needs in order to take care of their elderly parents, but often they will suffer depression because of self-neglect. The Kaiser report stated that in 2010, half of those 65 and older had incomes of less than $22,000 a year, and half had less than $53,000 in savings.  A Cost of Care Study published by the John Hancock Company estimated what it would cost to care for an elderly person in different geographic parts of the country.  The report revealed that annual costs varied widely depending on where a person lived and what type of health care he or she required, as shown by the following three major metropolitan areas:  Chicago – private room in a nursing home $70,445, assisted living $48,888, and home health care services $31,200 a year; San Francisco – private room in a nursing home $137,970, assisted living, $45,516, and home health care services $40,560 a year; and New York City – private room in a nursing home $160,600, assisted living, $71,016, and home health care services $29,640 a year.  Given these high costs, it is not surprising that many of the elderly are dependent on Medicaid.

The high cost of caring for the elderly is not just limited to the United States. It is surprising to learn that in a country like China, which has a strong tradition of caring for its elderly, there is a growing problem of children neglecting or abandoning their elderly parents.  News agencies  have reported that China recently enacted a law that would allow the elderly to seek legal recourse and prohibits “discrimination, insult, ill-treatment and abandonment” of the aged. China’s rapidly changing socio-economic demographics have transformed the traditional large extended families that once cared for their own elderly and replaced them with modern retirement and care homes. The China National Committee on Aging reported that by 2053 the Chinese population of those aged 60+ will increase from 185 million to 487 million people, or 34 percent of the population.  It attributed this extraordinary growth on the rise in people’s life expectancy from 41 years to 73 years over five decades, and China’s policy to force urban families to have only one child. Because China’s government provides little social assistance to care for its elderly and depends mainly on families to care for their own, under the One Child Policy, the lack of siblings puts the burden on that one child to care for his or her parents and grandparents.