Inflation puts added strain on families supporting aging loved ones

For families caring for loved ones in long-term care facilities or at home, financial pressures can be a major source of stress, now exacerbated by the rising cost of living and experts say it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Costs of long-term care projected to soar in coming decades for families and taxpayers

Toula Ambeliotis, left, and her daughter Fenia Ambeliotis spend many hours each week at her husband's side in his long-term care home in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., near Montreal. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Everything seems to be getting more expensive. Food, gas and housing prices are on the rise while paycheques are slow to keep pace. The CBC News series Priced Out explains why you're paying more at the register and how Canadians are coping with the high cost of everything.

When Toula Ambeliotis's 86-year-old husband moved into a long-term care home near Montreal last fall, it was a big and difficult transition for her family.

"Just seeing him like that was the worst part," said Ambeliotis, 74.

Her husband, Georges, has prostate cancer and Lewy body dementia. Aside from worrying about his condition, Ambeliotis is now also faced with the costs of his care.

"In my case, this was something out of the blue," she said. Even though her husband is in a public home, the $2,000 monthly bill puts a strain on her budget.

She and her daughter, Fenia Ambeliotis, have spent countless hours at Georges's side in the last months. Fenia, 44, wishes she could help out financially, but money is tight.

"It's been hard because everything is going up. Prices are up everywhere and I have my own financial situation," she said. "I'm unable, really, to assist her. So being there is really where I pay my bill."

For families caring for loved ones in long-term care facilities or at home, financial pressures can be a major source of stress that is now exacerbated by the rising cost of living.

But experts say that financial strain is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the projected costs of long-term care for families and taxpayers in the years to come.

"It really is going to be a kind of perfect storm when it comes to sustaining and maintaining the care of seniors in the future," said Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, a researcher at the National Institute on Ageing, a think-tank based at Toronto's Ryerson University.

MacDonald's 2019 report projected the public costs of long-term care will triple over the next three decades to reach more than $70 billion a year. At the same time, she said, demands on families will grow.

WATCH | How the cost of long-term care will affect the baby boomers' families:

Long-term care costs projected to soar

9 months ago
Duration 0:32
As baby boomers age, a study from the National Institute on Ageing projects public costs for long-term care will triple to more than $70 billion a year over the next three decades.

Baby boomers had fewer children than previous generations, and that means there are fewer family members to pitch in to care for them as they age.

Right now, she said, family members are the backbone of long-term care, providing hours of help to a degree that will not be sustainable in the coming decades.

"Those family sizes basically have to take on more responsibility because there are fewer of them," MacDonald said. "And most importantly, there's going to be many more Canadians who are going to be called on as unpaid caregivers."

Rising prices add to strain

Already, rising prices for food, gas and shelter are putting added pressure on families with loved ones in care.

"Inflation is on the rise, and that's something that will impact everybody, including people that are taking care of their parents," said Benjamin Tal, deputy senior economist with CIBC.

"Their cost has been rising over the past decade. We have to think from a long-term perspective how to assist those families."

Navigating supports and financial programs available can be complicated and confusing, according to Claire Webster, founder of McGill University's dementia education program.

She helps families access information and services they need after a diagnosis such as dementia. Her work is motivated by her own experience feeling lost in the health-care system after her mother's Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Webster said the financial obligations were among the many sources of stress.

"I had to move her from her apartment into a private residence because that was the only way to go, and I went through almost her entire life savings in the span of five years," she said.

A move toward aging in place

Fenia Ambeliotis is shown her father, Georges Ambeliotis, at his long-term care home. Its $2,000-a-month bill strains her mother Toula's finances, but money is also tight for Fenia. (Submitted by Fenia Ambeliotis)

Experts say easier access to support programs, financial assistance and tax incentives would be a good start to help families.

MacDonald, at the National Institute on Ageing, said Canada also needs more resources and financial support for families, to allow more seniors to age at home, rather than in costly nursing homes.

"It can be much more affordable to help people age at home where they prefer to be and where they're happier and they have better health outcomes," she said.

"What's lacking is that national, concerted, viable plan forward that's really going to take us off this dangerous path."

Fenia Ambeliotis looks to her own future with a sense of anxiety when she considers the potential financial pressures to come.

"I have zero plan on how I'm going to take care of my future, so it's very scary," she said.

"Clearly with what I'm seeing, our generation is really going to have to find a plan."

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