In the soft, gray tones of the photograph, my grandmother’s dark eyes are serene and her long, silken hair is loosely swept into crown-like braids. Her lovely, fine-boned face is turned directly toward the camera, her chin ever so slightly tilted up. The gold ring, filigree bracelet and elaborate lace cuffs connote an understated display of family wealth. But that was long before I was born.
Ages Past I am far down the line in a large family, and my grandparents were old by the time I appeared on the scene. And how old is “old”? At one point, Thomas Edison had been my grandfather’s employer.
When I was still very young, my parents decided my grandparents could no longer live on their own, and the decision was made: Grandmother and Grandfather would live with us. Though my parents had a large home, there was not enough space for my grandparents to have their own rooms, so Grandmother and I were to share a bedroom.
What might seem an improbable pairing was to me a delight. My grandmother was gentle-spirited; told wonderful stories about childhood; recited fragments of long German poems; and in a thin, wavering voice that still held true to pitch, sang songs in German, French and Yiddish. She was an enormous influence in my early life.
But at some point the signs began to emerge, and then to accelerate—disjointed conversations, insomnia, food hoarding, inability to navigate my parents’ home, and later, incontinence, immobility, tissue breakdown and near-complete memory loss. And every day the same question: “When are you taking me home?”
We didn’t have the word “Alzheimer’s” back then. Grandmother was senile, or in her second childhood, or, quirkiest of all, “balmy.” And I had not one childhood friend who had a clue what they were looking at when in my bedroom they saw the thin, white, bedridden envelope that housed Grandmother’s soul.
Yet today I hardly know anyone who isn’t navigating the rough waters of caregiving.
The Ghost of Care Costs Future Last week RAND published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine reporting that nearly 3.8 million Americans aged 70 and older have dementia. However, due to a swelling population of seniors, by 2040 that number is expected to grow to a staggering 9.1 million people.
And the cost of care for these older patients? According to the RAND study, in 2010 the annual cost was calculated to be $109 billion for trained, professional care. However, when “informal care” was included, the cost estimate rose to $215 billion. And as mind-blowing as those numbers are, RAND estimates by 2040 those costs will increase some 79 percent—and that’s assuming cost of care remains the same. Daily, 10,000 more Americans join the ranks of the over-62 crowd, and to make matters worse, these new retirees had fewer children, meaning the potential pool of informal caregivers is smaller.
We Ain’t Getting There From Here With projections like these, it goes without saying that most Americans are going to need to access every financial “bucket” available. No matter how diligently a couple might have saved, putting aside enough money to last to the end of life simply was not possible for many. Add to that baby boomers’ spending (and saving) habits and the disproportional impact of job cuts borne by those in their 50s and 60s, and the likelihood of tomorrow’s retirees going into retirement with sufficient savings drops to just about nil.
Growing Awareness of the Hidden Bucket Even if people were not fully funding other retirement buckets, however, most homeowners were paying their mortgage—even during the darkest days of the recession. Though hard statistics do not exist, colleagues around the nation have said that both attorney and financial planner referrals appear to be up. Certainly this is true in my business. And the No. 1 reason? These professionals are seeing what we originators are seeing: seniors with too much life left at the end of the money, or seniors who have done the hard math and see that day approaching. Financial planners can do much to make money go farther, and attorneys can navigate the benefit-eligibility labyrinth. But neither can manufacture something from nothing. A reverse mortgage can be the saving grace.
Changes, Rumors of Changes and Rumors of Reports Recommending Changes All indications suggest that HUD is not finished making changes to our product. However, as long as there are seniors, and as long as seniors want to spend their final years at home, there will be a need for reverse mortgages. I only hope changes yet to come will not put them out of reach for all but a few.