It is now common knowledge that we are living longer than ever. The statistics show that, on average, we are living well into our 80s.
In the last several years, the many implications of this shift have changed society. The tremendous growth in condominium development in the last 20 years, for example, is partly due to a “geriatric demand” (if you will) for dwelling on one level.
The pension debate in Canada partly results from an increasing number of pensioners who lack significant savings, and struggle to live on benefits that have changed little in recent years.
Swelling numbers of seniors have resulted in the Federal government’s hesitance to entertain any kind of meaningful increase.
Family life has also changed. The “sandwich generation,” a relatively new term, describes adults who look after both their elders and their children at the same time.
For those adults, their social lives change, their stress levels are elevated, and there may be other factors about them that we don’t even know yet.
Add to all this the changing laws here in B.C. (and in the rest of Canada), and you have a society in transition, though without knowing necessarily to what we are transitioning!
The elder part
For a family that has assumed responsibility for looking after parents, the first concern is probably medical. That involves making sure the parents’ living area is adequate and proper, and may involve a temporary arrangement while waiting for space to open in a care facility.
Whatever the situation, sandwichers need to make sure that every available care is engaged. That will involve their local health authority, who will assess the parents and potentially send people periodically over the week to help with bathing, meal preparation and so on.
Living areas need to be adequately equipped, with everything from wheelchairs to grab bars. Doctors, still in short supply, need to be found and seen regularly. Medications also need to be understood, controlled and kept current.
Once the medical part is settled, sandwichers need to make sure that all financial benefits and programs are claimed. For example, an application for CPP must be filed (CPP does not come to us automatically), whether at age 60 or later, depending on the circumstances. OAS is applied for at age 65 (eventually it will be at age 67).
The parents may also be eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, depending on their sources of income. The GIS can be in the range of $700, so should be considered.
Some discussion with a planner should also be arranged for parents, and planning documents such as Powers of Attorney, Representation Agreements and Wills should be made, especially while the parents have capacity.
Living arrangements also should be considered, because if there is a house involved, the entire family may have to live in it.
Alternatively, in today’s real estate market, selling a house may raise enough funds to pay the costs of renovating the sandwichers’ home or the costs of a care facility.
In this sort of environment, children are sometimes left out. Parents will demand attention, and kids may as a result receive less than they need.
Since time is at a premium, the best step that sandwichers can take is to arrange time specifically for children, whether through a separate, temporary caregiver or even a babysitter for an evening.
Over and above the numerous financial decisions that need to be made involving kids and parents, the hardest part of being a sandwicher is managing time. There is no single answer to this because, in my view, every family is unique.
I suggest, however, that being computer literate can help.
In the U.S., nearly half of all adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent over the age of 65 and are raising a child or financially supporting a child over the age of 18. One in seven adults is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
I expect that the numbers in Canada are not far off. Being older may be financially easier in Canada, given our healthcare system, but other responsibilities are no less easy.
Above all, sandwichers need to be informed and they need to plan. Planning should be constant, and joining some sort of support group can be extremely useful.
This column ran in the Richmond Review on June 3, 2015.