Lois A. Bowers

There I sat Friday afternoon, waiting to board my flight home after attending the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care National Conference. I couldn’t help but overhear the man seated next to me in the small gate area at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, who was waiting for a different flight.

He was speaking to a colleague about a third man to whom a promotion had been offered at their mutual place of employment. After the man had accepted the promotion, which necessitated a transfer to a different office, his father had been admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery and was now in the intensive care unit. The employee was asking for more time to consider the transfer while he waited to see whether his father’s health improved.

I immediately thought of the “Beyond Dollars” report [PDF] that had been released by insurance holding company Genworth Financial the previous day. The study, in part, detailed the negative job-related consequences faced by some family caregivers:

  • 77% reported missing some work during the past year.
  • 19% missed 10 or more hours of work per week (the average was 7 hours).
  • 12% had to change positions.
  • 11% lost their jobs.
  • 10% had to change careers.

In fact, 51% of family caregivers surveyed felt that their caregiving responsibilities negatively affected their ability to perform their jobs. They found themselves in their current situations because they desired to provide the needed care for their loved one — or because they or their loved one hadn’t planned for future care needs.

Indeed, one purpose of the Genworth study was to encourage individuals to think about the cost of the care they will need in their advanced years, and how to pay for it. But the study suggests action items for the senior living industry as well.

I’m thinking of points made by speakers at the NIC conference. In the opening session, Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) said that senior living providers should position themselves as a health and housing option that helps older adults age more successfully, because then they can continue to contribute to society in ways that benefit society. He made the comment in the context of saving the government money by communicating that senior living-related costs often are lower than hospitalization, home healthcare or care provided in other long-term care settings. Perhaps obtaining additional government funding would help make senior living even more affordable to potential residents (and ultimately save the government money). The industry also could make a stronger case to family caregivers that it offers an alternative that helps them avoid the negative career-related and other consequences associated with caregiving responsibilities.

The Genworth survey results indicate that 62% of caregivers are aged 25 to 54 years and 60% of care recipients are aged 65 or more years. In discussing challenges facing the senior living industry, Ventas CEO Debra Cafaro and other NIC speakers shared the statistic that 40% of adults aged 55 to 64 currently have saved less than $25,000 for retirement. On the other hand, she and others said, members of the Baby Boom generation, currently aged 50 to 69, control more than $9 trillion in disposable income, 70% of the U.S. total.

Somewhere in all of those numbers is an opportunity for senior living providers.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.