The worst thing to be in the middle of a crisis for Boomers

4 minutes
The worst thing to be in the middle of a crisis for Boomers

A resident eating in a room at the house for elderly residence Christalain during convulsions of Coronavirus disease outbreak, in the Brussels municipality of Jette, Belgium on 13 April 2020. REUTERS Yves Herman IMAGE photo

When Lynda Steele's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's two years ago, she faced an impossible choice.

Continue as host of her popular Vancouver Radio show and try to juggle caregiving duties or step away from her job, and spend more time with her dad in the last months of his life?

In the last week of May, she signed off and finalized the choice.

I went through periods of great guilt, thinking about my dad in a room, wondering why his kids aren't going to visit, Steele says. Parking my career seemed like the right thing to do.

More and more people are faced with life changing decisions. As Boomers, one of the biggest generations in U.S. history, their adult children are often stepped in to help with caregiving duties and that comes with costs.

According to a recent study of financial manager Fidelity Investments, 22% of caregivers report being kept occasionally overwhelmed by financial stress.

Turn around the numbers and it is not hard to see why. Of those who stepped back from their careers to focus on caregiving, whether for one's kids or for the elderly parents - the average time out of work was 20 months, and 53% said the period could become longer than they expected.

Meanwhile, 37% said they earned less when they returned to work and cut the median 40% pay cut in favor.

People don't fully understand the toll this takes on other aspects of your life, like your career or mental health, says Meredith Stoddard, vice president of life planning at Fidelity. They go in largely unprepared for the challenges, and are not sure what they're going to get into.

Of course, since it is family, it is a choice that most people would make in life. Making sure your elder parents are okay trumps any financial worries as it has been with Steele.

Caregivers should be clear about the sacrifice involved and have a roadmap in place. Just some advice from experts:

Make sure you are maximizing any benefits they are eligible for, says Amy Goyer, AARP's Family and Caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving. This includes Veteran's benefits, Long-Term Care insurance and government services.

A large aspect is housing. A home equity mortgage, loan for reverse mortgages or utility assistance could help with the financial burden.

Surprisingly, in the Fidelity study, 64% of working caregivers said they didn't even ask their employer if flexible benefits were available or special options were provided. A helpful workbook for all these financial issues for caregivers: caregivermoney.

If one sibling in particular is stepping off the workforce to care for an elderly parent, then the sacrifice involved is significant. Not just lost income, but unrealized raises and promotions, healthcare coverage, retirement contributions and more. That is why the other siblings should be aware of the full extent of this sacrifice and help as much as they are able financially.

Stoddard says often the responsibility falls to one of the adult siblings, and it can cause a lot of family conflict, often.

To help me understand the full costs of leaving the workforce, Fidelity even put together a calculator :

The worst thing to be in the middle of a crisis is to have to figure out how to get everything that doesn't apply even as a medical specialist - she was forced into bankruptcy by having to care for both parents and her sister.

That means things like establishing powers of attorney, for healthcare and finances. It means arranging estate planning and will situations. It could mean adding your name to their savings accounts or checking accounts, in order to handle their bills if it comes to that. Says Goyer: Take care of everything you can before things are at a crisis point.

As for Lynda Steele, she plans to resume her work at a later date whether back on the radio or something completely new. She is surprised at how many people are dealing with the exact same situation when she reveals her story publicly.

If someone out there is familiar with long-term care, you will be at some point in your life, Steele says. It feels like an Ultramarathon and it feels hollow.

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