Boomers often must care for parents, children

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 25, 2013 1:25 p.m. CDT

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Bob Brown and his wife told their children they could live with them for a year after graduating from college — but they really wanted them moved out in six months and would charge them rent.

"They moved pretty fast," the St. Charles resident said of his children, now 33, 31 and 29.

But for six months out of the year, Brown and his wife open their home to his 97-year-old father-in-law, who is mobile and has all of his faculties. He spends the winters in Austin, Texas, with his other married daughter.

"He doesn't wear out his welcome," Brown said.

At 66, Brown is part of the baby boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964. As baby boomers cross the threshold into retirement age – 10,000 boomers a day turn 65 in the United States – many are paying more attention to family and the need to care for aging parents while helping adult children in a down economy.

"The baby boomer generation often fills in the family," said Lucia Jones, executive director for the Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging, which helps coordinate federal funds and general resources to senior service agencies in metropolitan Chicago, including organizations in Kane, DuPage, Grundy, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

"They are often saddled with responsibilities to their parents, as well as their younger children," she added.

The agency coordinates with local groups such as ElderDay Center and Fox Valley Volunteer Hospice in Kane County. Kane County has seen an increase in demand for services by those in their early 60s, according to the 2011-2012 Kane County Community Health Assessment.

"The fastest-growing age group in Kane is the age group 55 to 69 years, which increased by more than 70 percent," according to the assessment. "In fact, the 60 to 64 year age group doubled in the last 10 years."

Many of these baby boomers have found themselves serving as caregivers for their parents, who are living longer than previous generations and increasingly are preferring to age at home, Jones said.

That's the situation for Campton Hills residents Sandy and Pat Ryan – he was born during the baby boom – who have welcomed Sandy's 83-year-old mother to share their home with them and their two teenage daughters, Sara and Emily.

Sandy Ryan said her mother probably takes care of her family more than they take care of her, but she noted she handles some of her mother's medical needs, like talking with doctors.

Having her at the house can be stressful at times on both sides, she said.

"She's more concerned about certain things the girls are doing than I would be," Sandy Ryan said. "I think she has a hard time realizing they're at the age that they are."

Parenting children, caring for parents

The Browns and Ryans are hardly alone in caring for a parent: Nearly 10 million adult children older than 50 provide care for their aging parents, a 2011 study from MetLife on the caregiving costs for working baby boomers found.

The total lifetime financial impact – in terms of lost wages, Social Security benefits and private pensions – for the average baby boomer to care for their parents is $303,880, the study found. That amount includes leaving the labor force early and/or reduced hours of work.

The caregiver role ranges from helping with the bills to helping with medical treatment. About one-third of caregivers, the study showed, work fewer hours or leave the workforce early to focus on caring for their elderly parents.

"The trend is that people want to live in their homes and not in an institutionalized program," said Betsy Creamer, supervisor for the Illinois Department on Aging's Office of Older American Services. "Baby boomers are providing more and more care to their families as caregivers."

Creamer's office helps administer the department's community care program, which provides in-home services for seniors. Illinois has seen a "fairly dramatic" increase in demand for the program, which now serves 46,750 more residents than in 2003, Creamer said.

But baby boomers also are turning to assisted living places for help. The Autumn Leaves Alzheimer's and Memory Care Assisted Living community in St. Charles receives many inquiries from adult children about services for their parents, Executive Director Brian Nebel said.

Autumn Leaves staff acknowledged that adult children often struggle with feelings of guilt because they promised their parents they wouldn't put them in a home. After doing so, however, many wish they had done so sooner, staff members said.

In addition to their parents, baby boomers often feel obligated to help their children, many struggling to find jobs in a slow economy that includes persistently high unemployment.

A 2012 survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that 59 percent of parents are providing financial support – such as living expenses and transportation costs – to adult children who no longer are in school.

The findings were released at the same time the MetLife Mature Market Institute surveyed 2,123 Americans ages 21 to 65 on the level of financial responsibility people of different generations feel in a variety of family roles.

In it, 77 percent of baby boomers interviewed said they wish they could do more for their children.

About 44 percent of baby boomers felt an absolute or strong responsibility to provide for their child's higher education, and a near identical amount – 45 percent – felt the same way toward allowing a child to live at home during times of financial difficulty.

Geneva resident Margaret Evans, 57, works four jobs – three part-time and one full-time – because, in addition to having many bills, she is supporting her 22-year-old son.

Her son recently finished the automotive program at Waubonsee Community College, and hopes to sign up for a program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Evans said, noting that expense.

"He's got to find a job," she said.

Brown – the St. Charles baby boomer who encouraged his three children to live on their own after graduating from college – said they returned home for a short period before finding other living arrangements.

"It's good for everybody," he said.

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