I went to the funeral of the mother of my childhood best friend a few months ago. All five of my friend's brothers and sisters were there. Over the last few years of their mother's life, each of them had kicked in to make sure that she had the help she needed, as well as enough money to pay the bills. In the months before she died at age 89, they dug deep to make sure she was able to live comfortably in a retirement facility that specialized in caring for people with Alzheimer's.
When the time comes for them to need similar care, who will provide it?
A report from the AARP Public Policy Institute predicts that the ratio of potential family caregivers per person older than 80 will fall from seven today to fewer than three potential caregivers by 2050. The explanation is obvious. How many boomers do you know who had six children?
AARP says the average family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman -- 65 percent of caregivers are women -- who not only has a job, but also devotes 20 hours a week to giving unpaid care to her mother for a total of nearly five years. Will your offspring be available, willing and able to provide this kind of care? Probably not.
"More than two-thirds of Americans believe they will be able to rely on their families to meet their needs when they need long-term care," writes Lynn Feinberg, AARP senior policy analyst and one of the authors of the report. "But this confidence is likely to deflate when it collides with the dramatically shrinking availability of family caregivers in the future."
ARRP calls for more creative thinking on this issue. "Demography is not destiny," the report says. Especially if your family is small and far-flung, figuring out who is going to take care of you when you're very old and where the money will come from to pay for it must be part of your retirement planning.
As the Beatles sang in 1966 when age 64 seemed ancient, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"