Poll finds higher stress caring for a spouse than for a parent

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WASHINGTON -- More Americans may wind up helping Mom as she gets older, but a new poll shows that the most stressful caregiving is for a frail spouse.

The population is rapidly aging, but people aren't doing much to get ready, even though government figures show that nearly 7 in 10 Americans will need long-term care at some point after they reach age 65.

In fact, people who are 40 and over are more apt to discuss their funeral plans than preferences for assistance with day-to-day living as they get older, according to the poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Five findings from the poll:

* Effect On Families: Half of people 40 and older already have been caregivers to relatives or friends. Six in 10 have provided care to a parent, mostly a mother, while 14 percent have cared for a spouse or partner.

Overwhelmingly, caregivers called it a positive experience. But it's also incredibly difficult, especially for spouses. While 7 in 10 who cared for a spouse said their relationship grew stronger as a result, nearly two-thirds said it caused stress in their family, compared with about half among those who cared for a parent.

It's not just an emotional challenge but also a physical one: The average age of spouse caregivers was 67, as opposed to 58 for people who have cared for a parent.

* Long-Term Planning: A third of Americans in this age group are deeply concerned that they won't plan enough for the care they'll need in their senior years, and that they will burden their families. Yet two-thirds say they've done little or no planning. About 32 percent say they've set aside money to pay for ongoing living assistance; 28 percent have modified their home to make it easier to live in when they are older.

In contrast, two-thirds have disclosed their funeral plans.

* Becoming A Caregiver: Three in 10 Americans 40 and older think it is very likely that an older relative or friend will need care within the next five years.

Just 30 percent who expect to provide that care feel very prepared for the job, while half say they are somewhat prepared.

But only 40 percent have discussed their loved one's preferences for that assistance, or where they want to live. Women are more likely than men to have had those tough conversations.

* What Does It Cost? Some 53 percent of people underestimate the monthly cost of a nursing home, about $6,900. Another third underestimate the cost of assisted living, about $3,400. One in 5 wrongly thought that a home health aide costs less than $1,000 a month.

* What Else Might Help? More than three-fourths of this age group favor tax breaks to encourage saving for long-term care or for purchasing long-term care insurance. Only a third favor a requirement to purchase such coverage.

The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted by phone March 13 to April 23 among a random national sample of 1,419 adults age 40 or older, with funding from the SCAN Foundation. Results for the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.


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