More women thrust into care-giving role

Senate panel: As they live longer, more face crises in providing for loved ones

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2002

WASHINGTON -- At 69 and responsible for caring for her quadriplegic husband, Evie Rosen-Budd watches her health and tries to exercise regularly.

''If I got sick, it would be a really major issue,'' the Edwards, Colo., woman said in a telephone interview from her home.

She's not alone. A Senate hearing found Wednesday that thousands of women who, because they are living longer, are thrust into similar roles with little preparation and few resources.

''America lacks an effective system to address care giving,'' Laurie Young, executive director of the Older Women's League, told senators. ''As a result, care-givers, the majority of whom are women, are often pushed beyond their means and suffer long-term consequences as they struggle to meet the needs of those who depend on them.''

Congress must act soon to head off a ''national care-giving crisis,'' Young said.

The advocates found a friendly audience in the Senate.

Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana said the testimony ''illustrates that our public policies do far too little to address the concerns of women as they age.''

''We must take a harder look at developing legislative initiatives, like a cohesive long-term care system, that recognize the role of care-givers,'' said Breaux, the Democratic chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging.

Advocates say the problem will only worsen as baby boomers enter their senior years.

According to a report by the government's Administration on Aging, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to increase 17 percent, from 33.5 million in 1995 to 39.4 million in 2010.

By 2030, that population is expected to grow a whopping 75 percent to over 69 million.

Women comprise much of that population. The government estimates that by the year 2050, women will make up 61 percent of the 85 and over population.

Many of them will spend some part of their lives caring for sick spouses or other relatives, experts say.

But at some point, those women will be on their own, often while poor.

Nine out of 10 married women will be widowed, according to the Alliance for Aging Research. And almost three-fourths of the 4 million elderly poor in the U.S. are women, the alliance said.

Dan Perry, the alliance's executive director, describes these women as a new generation.

''It's a care-giver woman in her 70s who has a husband that may be in his 80s. That same woman may have her own mother still alive or maybe an aunt in her 90s,'' Perry said.

''If that 74-year-old woman falls and fractures a hip or has some other catastrophe that lands her in a nursing home, you've go the collapse of generations,'' Perry said. ''Her husband won't be able to fend for himself. That aunt now has no one to take care of her.''

''We ought to be thinking more of how we can focus care for that generation,'' Perry said.

Rosen-Budd stays home to care for her 79-year-old husband, Bill Budd, getting by on his pension and Social Security. Medicare's long-term care coverage is limited, and Rosen-Budd's family doesn't qualify for Medicaid's services for the poor. A specially equipped van the couple had to buy cost $14,000, which had to be paid out-of-pocket. A frame to help Budd exercise was $1,700.

Rosen-Budd can't imagine what would happen if she became ill. ''I would have to be taken care of, and he would have to go somewhere else. We would double expenses,'' she said.

Lawmakers are considering options to help care-givers, including doubling allocations for the National Family Caregiver Support Program. Many senators are also backing a proposal that would give a tax credit for long-term care expenses up to $3,000.

Rosen-Budd wants lawmakers to act soon. ''We're not poor enough to get subsidies, and we're not rich enough to pay for full time help. It's a huge strain.''

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