Elderly citizens are increasingly faced with new responsibilities and very difficult choices due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those who have savings must decide whether to sink into their accounts early, potentially eating away at the funds they set aside later. Others need to calculate how starting to receive their social security payments earlier than planned could reduce their checks in the future.
“Who can even think about that – your retirement? If you’re trying to put food on the table today, you’re going to do everything you have to do that is legal so you can support yourself and your family,” says Beth Finkel. with AARP New York.
And in New York State, 2.5 million seniors care for others, according to Finkel.
Recently in Brooklyn, Anna Romero tackled a common pandemic problem: finding a quiet place at home. Her husband Ivan wants to watch TV in the living room, but Anna wants to talk on the phone. He worries that he will distract her, and she informs him.
“You can’t talk to me while I’m on the phone,” she said. “You have to stay there and I have to go to the bathroom.”
For lunch, Ivan and Anna ordered a combo from Taco Bell. It came with a freezing strawberry freezer, so she carries her plastic cup with her to the bathroom. On the shelf behind her hang matching white and purple hand towels with embroidered flowers.
The Romeros have been married for 48 years. For more than three decades, Ivan was a teacher and Anna worked at JPMorgan Chase. Anna then got a part-time job. Now, at 68, she is retiring, but not by choice. Five years ago, Ivan was diagnosed with dementia and became increasingly confused. Now that he is dressed, he will wear a sneaker and a shoe.
“He will tell you that there is no money, no clothes and no one loves him,” says Anna.
Ivan forgets where the closet or even the bathroom is and Anna has to remind him to brush his teeth.
“This is my new round-the-clock care,” she says.
When Ivan was diagnosed, Anna found a memory care center. He was picked up every morning and was there for five hours, playing dominoes and checkers, socializing and listening to music. Anna could go to work while Ivan was occupied. But when the pandemic struck, the center had to close and Anna had to leave. Her work could not be done from home and someone had to take care of Ivan.
Anna and Ivan saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in 401 (k) for retirement, but all their hard work and planning for the future also means they are stuck now. With money in the bank, social security and small pensions, Romeros did not qualify for Medicaid, which could pay for help for Ivan. For a while, if Anna needed a break, she would hire a friend with whom Ivan was comfortable, up to $ 25 an hour. But in the meantime, the mortgage, the drugs and all the other bills that life throws at them, Anna says she was forced to slowly withdraw from their savings.
“I don’t work anymore, so now I need more money out of pocket to be able to buy food, shelter and everything else. Bills. Everyone gets bills,” she said.
The husband of the friend he paid to take care of Ivan received COVID-19 and died. Then her friend got it. Anna has some help from her children, but now she is mostly alone again. She began to experience anxiety attacks. They feel like heart attacks.
“There are a lot of crying days. There are a lot of angry days. You have no idea. You have no idea how hard it is,” she says.
Some older people also face another problem. Due to the loss of jobs from the pandemic, almost half of 18- to 25-year-olds are living with their parents again, “said Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Retirement Research Council at Wharton School.
“So part of what older people do is take care of their children who are home with them again,” she says.
Mitchell says today’s seniors are often in more debt than their counterparts 30 years ago. They have taken larger mortgages and have more medical bills. Then there are student loans.
“In fact, something like 6% of retirees already have some of their social security checks garnished because of student loans they haven’t paid,” she said.
Part of this student loan debt is for themselves; some of them are for their children. Anna doesn’t have to worry about that – her children are settled. The college is paid and they are out of the house.
But she hopes to keep Ivan at home until she manages. If his dementia worsens, care can cost thousands of dollars a month, and at that rate, the couple’s savings will disappear in about five or six years. Then what? Anna has her own health conditions. She suffered a heart attack in 2001 and has coronary artery disease. And even when she is able to hire someone to take care of Ivan, she worries. What if they don’t understand it?
Anna has joined a number of support groups for women like her whose husbands suffer from early dementia. And she is looking for a memory care center where Ivan’s accounts can be partially covered by a grant. She hopes President Biden will release his own version of the health plan, Biden-Care, which will provide more generous coverage for patients dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
But she also hopes that when the pandemic is over, she can return to work just enough to try to ensure the couple can afford the future.