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Long distance care of aging parent magnifies need for plan

Anyone who has had to care for an aging parent knows what a challenge it can be. There are demands on time, energy and the emotional toll. Responsibilities and obligations of an adult child's own family don't just vanish, either. The issue is worse for those caring for a parent over long distances. And statistically, for residents in New Jersey and the country at large, the situation is only likely to become worse.

In our mind, this speaks again to the need for each person to clearly articulate his or her desires through tools such as living wills. According to the National Institute on Aging, some 7 million Americans now serve as long-distance caregivers. Demographically, over the next 40 years, the numbers suggest that the number of people 65 an older will grow fast while the number of people aged 20 stays roughly the same. For the sake of the caregivers who will fall into the age bracket in between, the value of estate planning can't be overstated.

And it's not just the emotional, time and energy toll that such care can give. There is the financial burden of caregiving. According to a 2007 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the Evercare business unit of United Health Group, the annual expenses that a long-distance caregiver can rack up can average more than $8,700. That can be depleting in the best of economic times. Consider the effect when economic times are hard, as they have been for the past five years.

There may be no easy answers for how to resolve these pressures. But there are some efforts being made in this regard. There are the benefits of estate planning. Advance directives, wills, guardianships and the like provide the vehicles through which aging or ailing individuals can speak, even if they are incapacitated for some reason. One thing to remember, though, is that the documents need to be easy to get to in times of emergency.

There are also a growing number of government programs, such as the National Family Caregiver Support Program created as part of the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000. Through it, in collaboration with state agencies, thousands of caregivers get help with their aging loved ones. In New Jersey, the NFCSP for local and long-distance caregivers is administered through the Division of Aging & Community Services.

Source: AP, The Washington Post, "As America ages, millions try to juggle ailing parents' caregiving needs from afar," Jan. 26, 2012

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