Never before have so many people lived so long, never before have so many children seen their parents become so dependent on them for care, and never before have so many had to be caregivers to their parents while still caring for their own children at home – members of the new “Sandwich Generation.” They are sandwiched between two forces like between two pieces of bread. The top slice represents their parents’ needs and the bottom slice represents their children’s needs. Sometimes, an added pulling force is a retired spouse with dreams of travel and free time.

Many caregivers living today can recollect memories of grandmom coming to live with Mom and Dad. Perhaps she was “acting funny” or getting confused. Or, it was whispered, she was getting “senile”. Perhaps, also, she was reaching the ripe old age of 70. In those early decades of the 20th century, the elderly were those who had escaped death from heart attacks, strokes, TB, and cancer, and lived to an old age of 65 or 70. How times have changed.

Today’s elderly are protected, medicated, regulated, and monitored sufficiently to reach their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond. In these later years, many fall victim to other disabilities like dementia and Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, strokes, osteoporosis, and frailty. Their dependency on others occurs at later ages, but it surely occurs and in far greater numbers.

Although many exceptions can be singled out, most caregivers today are between the ages of 50 and 64. These are the children of the elderly. Few Americans will escape this call to be a caregiver. The group just now facing this responsibility are the “baby boomers,” the largest segment of people in the country. This group is 78 million strong. The first “baby boomers” are just reaching their retirement age of 66 years of age; the youngest of them are about 46. In another 10 years, some of the youngest boomers may be caregivers for some of the first baby boomers.

Looking farther into the 21st century we see a new challenge looming. This new challenge is for a system to deal with chronic care. By definition, this means care for conditions that are not curable and will be long-lasting, usually with specific health consequences. Longer life expectancy means that the number of elderly persons is increasing and among elderly Americans, chronic conditions such as heart disease, crippling arthritis, pulmonary disease, and mental confusion or dementia will be commonplace.

Often, these chronic conditions do not require hospitals or medical care. In fact, most people with chronic conditions – estimated to be over 100 million Americans – live and work among us and are struggling to remain independent and continue in the work force. But not all can do so, and as many as 50 million require some assistance to lead normal lives. Some 25% of those, over 12 million, are unable to live without involving caregivers in their lives.

The services these 12 million chronically ill and dependent persons will need will not all be medical, but assistance with daily living and activities. Some of the providers of these services will be paid medical personnel in the home. But many services will be provided by volunteers, family, community, and government agencies. Today’s caregivers must learn how to access various services and orchestrate the care each can provide. They will be involved with:
  • Social services for transportation and homemaking assistance
  • Custodial services for safety and day care
  • Rehabilitation services for speech or mobility
  • Psychological services for depression or feelings of isolation, and
  • Family services for shopping, housekeeping, cooking, banking, driving, and bathing.
A startling statistic is that the average woman will spend 17 years caring for her children, and 18 or more years caring for her aging parents. Her tasks will increase in time and intensity over those years. They may begin as grocery shopping, driving, cooking, housekeeping, and banking chores, and develop into providing housing and personal care with bathing, feeding, and assistance with walking.

The sandwich generation will experience many strong forces pulling them from opposite ends. Indeed, about 15% of all caregivers switched from full-time jobs to part-time work to care for a loved one and another 12% have left the work force to be a full-time caregiver. The trend will not lower these numbers nor decrease the impact on families.

Caregiving roles vary significantly from one caregiver to another. What starts out as an occasional need for a driver, companion, or cook often progresses to a need for one to bathe, dress, medicate, or toilet an aging parent. What starts out as a caregiving role as a visitor two or three times a week may ultimately become, for many, a live-in caregiver’s role shared by husband, wife, and children.

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said: There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who need caregivers.”
Caregiving is in the future for all of us in one way or another. Any assistance we can get in dealing with this ever growing issue is essential to the wellbeing of the caregiver and the care recipient.

Most of us say to ourselves, “I never would have fallen for the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme that bilked billions of dollars from unsuspecting investors.” Yeah right. I suspect many of us would have if we just had enough money to make it worthwhile for Bernie to come after us. So what about the smaller-time bandits who are trying to squeeze the little they can from the less-than-rich? And what about our older parents who seem perfectly ripe for the kinds of con jobs that are going on now?

Scams and financial fraud are ever-present. And as citizens we should be aghast at how many people are affected. What galls me most is how many of these scams play directly to our senior population. Many older people don’t have that built-in suspicion the rest of us have since they grew up in a more innocent time when you could actually leave your door unlocked. And many don’t have the technological savvy to know what they can and cannot do when they get on their computers or cell phones.

A recent survey from the Investor Protection Trust found that over 7 million seniors had been scammed. That’s about 20% of the American population over 65. Scandalous.

The good news is that there is a movement to address this. The Prevent Elder Financial Abuse Call-in Program was created to help our parents avoid being ripped off. Several organizations have sponsored this program and set up telephone hotlines to help. Here are the numbers to call if you have concerns or questions:

  • General finance questions: (888) 227-1776
  • Medical questions: (888) 303-0430
  • Financial abuse: (888) 303-3297
For more information about the call-in program, go to

But as children of aging parents, there are other things we can and must do to prevent our parents from being victims.

  1. Talk to your parents about these conmen calling or emailing with great opportunities. Warn them and remind them that “if it sounds too good to be true, it IS too good to be true.
  2. Talk to your parents about protecting their online activity. Be sure there are anti virus software programs on their computers and remind them to never give out their credit card info on a link they received in an email. If unsure, they should separately go to the website they are purchasing from, not the link they got in the email.
  3. Be a snoop! I don’t mean pry into their personal files or drawers. But pay attention and ask a lot of questions about what they’re doing on the computer, where they’re investing, how they’re investing, and beg them to tell you about any opportunities they are considering investing in.
We welcome the kinds of programs sponsored by And we hope that many more people write about it and talk about fraud and abuse against our seniors so that we can stop these thieves before they strike.

We’ve all heard the statistics: the Social Security trust fund will run out of money in the year … (fill in your own blank). And the expenses for Medicare will bankrupt the country at some point (again, fill in your own year).

I’m not a Chicken Little but I do agree there is legitimate concern. And it’s not just that I, myself, am getting pretty close to being a recipient of those government programs. I don’t envy policy makers who are struggling to come up with the best solution. It’s complicated. And I don’t believe it’s selfish of those who want to lower taxes on the wealthiest among us. They honestly believe that by lowering or keeping the taxes low for wealthy people, that will lead to more jobs being created. The argument is that those are the folks who create small businesses and therefore hire people. Hiring people and creating businesses will then grow the economy.

I have two responses to that. One, I ask, “How’s that working for you?” Not so well, eh? The Bush tax cuts have been in place for several years and yet jobs are just not being created are they? Maybe it’s time to start a new tactic and stop pretending that tax savings spur job growth. Tax savings enable wealthier people to spend more (which could help growth) but mostly, save more. That has no effect on the economy.

My second response is based on a report recently that said most job growth does not come from small businesses. This report said that about half of job growth actually comes from large companies. And another portion comes from public service jobs. So the thinking that by lowering taxes for small businesses the economy will grow is wrong. Or at least half wrong.

How does that tie into the tough choices we have to make for Medicare and Social Security? I hope the connection is obvious. Unless we fix those two programs, we won’t be able to grow our economy enough to keep the programs strong and effective. And that will severely hurt what this blog is all about, that is, "caring for your aging parents."

My solution? Twofold.
  1. Raise the upper limit of earnings from which FICA is taken. Right now it’s about $106,000 meaning that every dollar earned after that figure is not taxed for social security. I ask why? Oh yeah, I understand it’s about the formula tying the tax collected to your eventual payout. But that’s artificial. Medicare is not capped at that salary. Social Security should not be either. Based on the numbers I’ve read, raising the salary cap on FICA will solve close to half of the problem.
  2. Raise the age of eligibility for Social Security. It was done with my generation – I can’t qualify for full benefits until I’m 66, as opposed to the 65 it was when the program began – so why not do it again? If we gradually raise the age to 69, we could solve the other half of the problem. Or close.
A lot of policy wonks agree so I hope the legislators accept this thinking. And, by the way, in the spirit of full disclosure, my family would suffer a little from raising the salary cap. I’m willing to accept that loss and it won’t stop me from creating a new job with my small business.