Baby-boomers expect kids to care for them when they're sick

(Reuters Health) - Three in four baby-boomers with children expect one of their kids to help care for them when their health fails in old age and they don’t have a spouse who can do this, a UK study suggests.

When they don’t have kids, a third of baby boomers anticipate needing help from professional healthcare providers and four in 10 expect a close friend or neighbor will take care of them, the study also found.

“Many will receive that care from their spouse or partner,” said study co-author Diana Kuh of University College London. “We looked at the worst case scenario where such care would not be available.”

In many Western societies, most older people needing help with daily tasks like dressing and bathing receive assistance informally from a spouse or partner or their adult children, the researchers note in Maturitas.

But as life expectancy continues to increase, more adult children with parents needing care may already be at retirement age themselves and less able to help. Family dynamics around care for aging parents may also shift as couples have fewer children to share this responsibility.

To understand how baby boomers think about their family caregiving options, researchers surveyed 2,135 adults who were 68 or 69 years old about their expectations about who might care for them in the future.

More than nine in 10 participants had at least one adult child and 44 percent lived less than five miles from their nearest adult offspring, the study found.

Almost 70 percent were married and slightly less than half had at least one functional limitation that made it difficult to complete daily tasks.

About 14 percent had a longstanding illness that had limited their usual activities since age 64 or younger.

More than 40 percent of participants said they had themselves provided care for someone frail or with a disability.

Social networks of family and close friends appeared to influence how people thought about their potential future caregivers.

Participants lacking social relationships in midlife - for instance, those who said that between ages 43 and 64 they had no one they could rely on in a crisis - as well as people living further from adult children were more likely to expect professional help with their future care needs.

People with the least amount of contact with family and friends were 27 percent less likely to expect future care from a child and 15 percent more likely to anticipate needing care from a paid professional, the study found.

The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how different family and social relationships might influence older adults’ expectations for care in their golden years. It’s also possible that expectations in the UK, where there’s a national health system, might be different than in countries where people have less access to healthcare.

Preferences at one point in time also may not match what people want when they do need help, said Jennifer Wolff, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore who wasn’t involved in the study.

“I am very skeptical that hypothetical preferences or expectations have any bearing on actual care arrangements that may evolve,” Wolff said by email.

But it still makes sense for people to think about who might care for them and discuss this with anyone they might rely on for help in the future, Wolff said by email.

“It is definitely true that most baby boomers have not adequately planned for the potential eventually of requiring long-term care from a financial perspective,” Wolff said.

SOURCE: Maturitas, online August 8, 2018.