Seniors increasingly find themselves with new responsibilities and a lot of difficult choices due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those with savings must decide whether to dip into their accounts sooner, which could eat away at the funds they set aside later. Others need to calculate how starting to receive their Social Security payments earlier than expected might reduce their checks in the future.
“Who can even think about it – your retirement? If you’re struggling to put food on the table today, you’re going to do whatever you need to do that is legal to be able to support yourself and your loved ones. family, ”says Beth Finkel with AARP New York.
And in New York state, 2.5 million seniors are caring for others, according to Finkel.
Recently in Brooklyn, Anna Romero faced 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. She’s afraid he might distract her, and she lets him know.
“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 Taco Bell combo. He came with a free Strawberry Freeze, so she brings her plastic cup with her to the bathroom. Matching white and purple hand towels with embroidered flowers hang from the rack behind her.
The Romeros have been married for 48 years. For over three decades, Ivan was a school guard and Anna worked at JPMorgan Chase. After that, Anna got a part-time job. Today, at 68, she is retired, but not by choice. Five years ago, Ivan was diagnosed with dementia and became increasingly confused. Now when he gets dressed he will put on a sneaker and a shoe from another pair.
“He will tell you that he has no money, no clothes and that no one likes him,” says Anna.
Ivan forgets where the closet is or even the bathroom, and Anna has to remind him to brush his teeth.
“This is my new job as a 24/7 caregiver,” she says.
When Ivan was diagnosed, Anna found a memory care center. It 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 busy. But when the pandemic hit, the center had to close and Anna had to resign. His work couldn’t be done at home and someone had to take care of Ivan.
Anna and Ivan saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 401 (k) for retirement, but all of their hard work and planning for the future also means they’re now stuck. With money in the bank, Social Security, and small pensions, the Romeros are not eligible for Medicaid, which could pay for Ivan’s aid. For a while, if Anna needed a break, she would hire a friend, someone Ivan was comfortable with, for up to $ 25 an hour. But between that, the mortgage, the drugs, and all the other bills 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 so that I can buy food, shelter and everything. Bills. Everyone has bills,” she said.
The husband of the friend she paid to care for Ivan contracted COVID-19 and died. Then her friend understood it. Anna has help from her children, but now she is almost alone again. She started having anxiety attacks. They feel like heart attacks.
“There are a lot of days of crying. There are a lot of days of anger. You have no idea. You have no idea how difficult it is,” she said.
Some elderly people also face another problem. As a result of job loss due to the pandemic, nearly half of 18 to 25 year olds are living with their parents again, says Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School.
“So part of what older people do is take care of their children who are back home with them,” she says.
Mitchell says seniors today are often more in debt than their counterparts 30 years ago. They have taken out bigger mortgages and have more medical bills. Then there are student loans.
“In fact, something like 6% of retirees now have part of their Social Security checks forfeited because of student loans they haven’t paid,” she says.
Some of this student loan debt is for themselves; part is for their children. Anna doesn’t have to worry about it – her children are settled. College is paid, and they’re out of the house.
But she hopes to keep Ivan at home for as long as she can take it. If her dementia worsened, care could cost thousands of dollars a month, and at that rate, the couple’s savings would be gone in about five or six years. So what ? Anna has her own health problems. She had a heart attack in 2001 and suffers from coronary artery disease. And even when she manages to hire someone to take care of Ivan, she is worried. What if they don’t understand it?
Anna has joined a number of support groups for women like her whose husbands suffer from dementia premature. And she’s looking for a memory care center where Ivan’s bills could be partially covered by a grant. She hopes President Biden will release his own version of a healthcare plan that would offer more generous coverage for patients 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 and make sure the couple can afford their future.