Things have changed a lot in the US during my grandmother’s lifetime.
My grandmother retired before I was born. Usually the people I remember as having been “old” during my childhood turn out to have been slightly older than I am now. Not so with my last remaining grandparent, who looks quite old in photos where my parents are younger than I am.
I used to tag along with my dad to her house multiple times a week, making sure everything was taken care of. She could live alone, but she needed help with little things. She’s never been a fan of children and I can’t imagine I was much help, so I’m sure no one really cared when I stopped going.
Why did I suddenly refuse to visit my grandmother? I was so angry that she knew who my sister was (the pretty one) and had not the slightest clue who I was (the nerdy one), even though my sister visited her only for required family occasions. The first time she forgot who I was, everyone brushed it off. I boycotted grandma.
It was nearly 20 years before anyone diagnosed her with dementia. The amount of help she required each week grew gradually, until it was clear she needed my father to move in with her.
When my grandmother was working age, it was unusual for a woman to work. The elderly and infirm were expected to be cared for by the wives who looked after the children. The daughters were expected to help.
Now only the wealthy can afford to survive on a single salary. Even those who could afford to have one spouse stay home often have ambitions beyond their homes. As the pay structure and societal expectations shifted, the rest of the world failed to shift to accommodate the needs of childcare and eldercare.
When Social Security was unveiled, the life expectancy of an American was 62 and payouts began at 65. Today, most people live to see 80. No wonder the system is always on the verge of collapse — it wasn’t designed for this.
More and more people rely on Medicare while fewer people pay into the system.
With many parents requiring care starting in their 60s, most people will spend more years providing eldercare than childcare. Children spend hours a day at school, elders require 24/7 care with little financial support.
They’re expected to support themselves, save for retirement, put their kids through college, and support their parents. People are collapsing under the weight of these unreasonable requirements.
As soon as I was living on my own, my parents eldercare responsibilities intensified. And now they’re providing childcare for their grandkids while still taking care of their own parents. So much for an empty nest. While the other elders in our family have passed away, grandma still needs 24/7 care.
My parents have been fortunate: they’ve made it through the financial and emotional gauntlet of eldercare with their own lives largely intact. They had jobs that provided the flexibility to provide eldercare, often for multiple people at a time, without having to give up an income. So many haven’t.
Our lives have changed. It’s time our system for eldercare changes, too.