Dream vs. Reality – Is Retirement in the Cards for Family Caregivers?

We all dream of a time when we can stop doing the 9 to 5 (or is it 7-7?).

Even when we love our jobs, we strive to travel the world, go fishing, try something new or just read a good book without interruption.

Retirement — living out our golden years seeking personal fulfillment, exploration, and new hobbies — seems to be a thing of the past.

We no longer look at our 65th birthday as a time when we pack up our desk and get the gold watch, walking into the sunset to greet a new path.

How will working past traditional retirement age affect family caregivers who may be caring for one or more older adults?

Health Consequences of Traditional Retirement

Some have said that when a person retires they are left waiting to die.

This may not be too far from the truth, as research shows. Retiring from a stimulating environment to sit on the front porch isn’t good for our senior’s physical or mental health.

One study found that people who retired had a 40% greater risk of heart attack or stroke (both men and women) than their peers who continued to work. The first year of retirement seems to be the unhealthiest.

Did you know that retirement was ranked 10th of the 43 most stressful life events?

Researchers in the Study of Adult Development found that retirement is more successful when you create a new social network, as you lose the daily contact with colleagues; play at life keeping active in many pursuits; keep your brain active and participate in creative activities; and never stop learning.

Doing these things made life more enjoyable in turn keeping you healthy.

Maintaining structure in your life will also help keep you healthy in retirement. How you manage your lifestyle when you are in charge of your own time will dictate how healthy your retirement may be.

Pew Research Study on Retirement

Because we are all desiring to be in charge of our time and activities including our senior loved ones, retirement seems like a great option. However, we need to stay connected and may feel fulfilled through our work.

A recent Pew Research study found that more people over 65 are working now than since the turn of the century. They found 9 million people over 65 reported being employed either full or part-time and that number has been quoted at 33 million for those over 55 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This increase in older workers can be see steadily in those 75 and older as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that older workers outnumbered teenage workers in 2015 for the first time since 1948!

Older adults of all ages are working full-time. Compared to all adults, seniors are working in similar sectors of the job force to other workers, except with lower numbers in foodservice, computing, and construction.

The National Council on Aging reports that older workers are staying in jobs longer due to financial reasons to remain independent, to pay for care needs of those for whom they care, to stay engaged, and because they enjoy it.

Family Caregiving and Retirement

Family caregivers often don’t have the ability to decide whether they will retire or continue working based solely on their own desires.

Often, caregivers must make decisions based on what older adults in their care require.

Are the medical costs too high, requiring caregivers to earn a living?

The amount of time they are needed in the caregiver role also dictates whether they can continue to work past the typical retirement age or are forced to retire early especially if they are needed for daily care at home.

If a caregiver is responsible for a spouse, they are more likely to retire as soon as possible in order to meet their needs personally, according to research by the Cornell Retirement and Well-Being Study.

Perhaps a caregiver will opt to transition from full-time to part-time so that they can provide care more frequently themselves.

“Forced” Retirement for Caregiving

When a caregiver retires due to the demands of caregiving, this is considered to be involuntary retirement. Many caregivers call their retirement forced when they feel they don’t have total control in deciding their fate.

In addition to financial consequences, caregivers who perceived their retirement to be forced and have limits placed on their daily living due to caregiving, had a higher rate of depression. They remark that their retirement plans were “spoiled.”

Changing work life and retirement plans based on caregiving needs often results in a financial loss to the caregiver, not just in wages but also retirement benefits, social security earned credits and, as we have discussed, their own health.

A MetLife study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers estimated a loss of benefits and wages as a result of caregiving for men to be $280,000 and women more than $320,000.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

Caregivers who near retirement and begin considering their options should investigate the financial outcomes of their decision in addition to feeling the need to be the primary caregiver before they decide.

Finding alternate strategies to meet the caregiving needs of your senior loved one while you pursue a work life could be important for many caregivers.

This is a personal decision for caregivers and asking yourself if you love your job or are just doing it for the paycheck could help you make your decision.

Caregivers can:

  1. Request that their employers adopt a flexible work schedule to allow a balance work that is loved with caregiving responsibilities
  2. Try to job share or go to part-time status
  3. Ask if the employer will consider unlimited paid sick time for caregiving responsibilities (research found this policy actually resulted in lower use of sick time as respite was available for caregivers to remain healthy)
  4. Seek out Employee Assistance Program resources
  5. Connect with community organizations to get support and local resources
  6. Determine if the senior can benefit from government help through BenefitsCheckup.org
  7. Stay organized so that you can reduce stress
  8. Care for yourself, ask for help and accept it when offered!

As a caregiver, our fate is in our hands.

How caregivers balance work and home life and also care for ourselves, whether we retire early or stay working as we age, impacts our own physical and mental health.