For more stories on elder care, check out the rest of America Tonight’s special series “Aging America.”
Before dying, Marina McClay’s mother asked her to promise one thing: “That you’ll take care of dad.”
“That was my mother’s only dying request of me,” McClay said. “And I said I would, of course.”
Her father, Robert, was more than a good provider; he was a renaissance man– a successful artist, jazz enthusiast and world traveler, who spent his 20s in Europe. Then, about five years ago, he started forgetting things.
“I discovered at some point that he hadn’t been opening his bank statements for more than a year,” she told America Tonight.
McClay is one of more than 40 million Americans who are considered informal caregivers – the silent army of family members who provide care to a skyrocketing number of aging adults.
People like McClay are at the forefront of a coming “care gap.” In America, a person turns 65 every six seconds. Today, there are roughly seven adults capable of providing care for every person age 80 or older, according to a 2013 study by AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans. By 2030, that ratio will drop to 4-to-1.
Three-quarters of family caregivers also hold down jobs, forcing many to rely on outside help. In order to work, McClay enrolled her father in an adult day care. The first month was hard enough, with her father accusing her of sending him to “adult nursery school.”
“Half of me wants to just say, ‘You know what, dad? You’re right. I’ll just let you live your life the way you want,’” she said. “But I can’t…He can’t remember to give himself regular meals.”
McClay's daycare and a part-time professional caregiver costs about $36,000. A private nursing home is even more crushingly expensive. McClay said her father bought long-term care insurance – a protection that only a small portion of Americans purchase – although he forgot about it the next day.
Even with the insurance, McClay’s life revolves around her dad. She cleans and cooks for him, runs his errands and stays home in the evenings and on weekends to look after him. McClay said she has no other choice but to continue, but it’s made her seriously rethink how she would want to be cared for should she need it.
“I don’t want my daughter to ever have to go through this,” she said. McClay added: “I don’t want to burden her with having to take care of me.”