When you think of an adult child caring for an elderly parent, what comes to mind? For most of us, the first thing we envision is probably a woman in her fifties. What may not come to mind is elders caring for elders: men and women in their 70s and up caring for parents in their 90s or older.
An analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College was the first to document how often this happens. Researchers found that 10 percent of adults ages 60 to 69 whose parents are alive serve as caregivers, as do 12 percent of adults age 70 and older.
What is the reality of elders caring for their elders? We posed this question to Bre Nunley, an elder care coordinator at Kimbrough Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm with offices in Athens and Gainesville, Georgia.
For Bre, this situation is nothing new. “We see that a good bit,” notes Bre, who worked as an administrator at a memory care community for nearly four years before joining Kimbrough Law in 2017. “Caregiving late in life creates more challenges than you might think.”
The physical demands of care are tough enough for people in midlife. It can be even more difficult for older bodies. “In addition to running errands, shopping, and cooking, caregivers are doing physically demanding tasks like lifting their parents, helping them bathe, and assisting with bathroom tasks,” Bre explains. “I’ve seen situations where the adult child falls and breaks a hip.”
Socially, older caregivers can be even more isolated than younger caregivers. People in their 60s and 70s may have recently retired with a dwindling supply of family and friends. Many older caregivers find themselves without a support team—or a social life. “If you're doing everything for a parent, you’re not able to go out and do things with friends,” Bre notes. “And if you do get out, you're so exhausted from sleep deprivation and stress that you can't enjoy the experience.”
Late-in-life caregiving can cause financial problems, too. Adult children may be paying out of pocket for care and other expenses, using up their own hard-earned savings with no possibility of replacing those funds by re-entering the workforce. “Some of our clients are adult children who spent all their money caring for their elderly parents, sometimes for decades, and they have nothing left,” Bre admits. “We’re often able to get them on Medicaid, but sometimes the costs just end up shifting to the next generation, which is never a good situation.”
For people in their 60s, 70s, or 80s who are caring for parents in their 90s or older, a Life Care Plan can be a godsend because it creates an instant network of support around the caregiver, providing tangible physical, emotional, and financial relief. One of the most important members of the support team is the elder care coordinator, who walks alongside families, providing guidance, encouragement, support, and connections to resources. The elder care coordinator is also a sounding board and confidante for family caregivers. This comprehensive support can make all the difference, especially for older caregivers.
“The other day, one of my clients who’s in this situation told me how grateful she was for the support of a Life Care Plan,” Bre added. “’I used to be worried,’ the caregiver told me. ‘But now I’m not because we have you.’”