L.A-based Huffington Post writer Ann Brenoff is one to watch. She’s truly distinguished herself in recent weeks for debunking some of the most common myths about marriage, aging, and family caregiving.
In an August 27 column, Brenoff astutely notes that marriage, or having children, does not ensure one will be cared for later in life. One spouse invariably survives the other, and retirement homes are filled with parents whose children were unable to find ways to keep mom or dad in their homes. The children may live thousands of miles away or are busy raising their own families and can’t visit as often as is ideal. Sadly, sometimes children just don’t care.
In her latest column, Brenoff debunks another commonly held misperception that any aging parent should be aware of: Your children are not necessarily the best individuals to entrust with your care. Brenoff highlights a report by TrueLink that finds that exploitation by family members represents some 20 percent of financial losses sustained by seniors. She also notes a MetLife study that found that family members of close caregivers are responsible for 55 percent of the fraud cases involving elderly victims. Brenoff also has a good memory: She links to some moving testimony about elder abuse the actor Mickey Rooney gave to Congress four years ago.
As someone who has managed an elder care company for the past four years, I’d like to add another cautionary note for parents thinking of relying on their children for their later care: It’s not only outright fraud you need to be mindful of. I have seen too many instances where children empowered to take care of their parents’ finances were more concerned about protecting their inheritance than spending mom and dad’s money on obtaining the best quality care for them.
Unfortunately, not all children have the same loving relationship with their parents and motives of some might not be in the best interests of their loved ones. These cases saddened me greatly, since my motivation for starting CareLinx was to solve many of the problems my family encountered when struggling to find care for my sister with multiple sclerosis and uncle who had ALS. Parents need to be mindful of their longstanding relationship with their children before entrusting their care to them.
Brenoff quotes some valuable counsel offered by Kai Stinchcombe, the CEO of TrueLink and former Aging 2.0 classmate whom I think of quite highly. Stinchcombe notes that before any parent agrees to be committed to a nursing home, they consult with a financial planner to see if this is indeed the best or only option. Elder home care is the one healthcare segment where costs will dramatically decline even as professional caregiving wages are poised to increase substantially. The vast majority of aging Americans want to remain in their homes and it’s becoming increasingly practical - and financially possible - for them to do so.
I’m also impressed with Stinchcombe’s counsel that it is the responsibility of all family members to check in on aging parents and grandparents. As noted in Brenoff’s column:
Underlying almost all financial losses is an underlying lack of social resources and connection. A lonely grandma is a vulnerable one. If multiple people are checking in it’s much harder for any one of them to take advantage.
Stinchcombe says that while not everyone might see this as a rip-off, in his view, aging family members are entitled to quality time spent with you and if you don’t give it to them, “you’re ripping them off.” He notes that in China, there are new laws that make it mandatory to periodically visit your parents. “I think it reflects a respect for aging that I wish we had more of in the U.S. If you know your parents’ financial situation, who they are spending time with, what they are spending their money on, what their interests and hobbies are, you’re much more likely to protect them from financial losses.
Take a bow, Ann Brenoff, for being ahead of the media and appreciating that elder care is one of the most pressing issues in America today, as 20 percent of the country will be 65 or older within little more than a decade. Brenoff’s prescience will come as no surprise to anyone who appreciates that in journalism, like all fields, there is no substitute for experience.