Caught in Between


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Photo: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

As people live longer and start families later, thousands of them are caring for children and elderly parents simultaneously. Here are the stories of kamaaina who are caught in the middle and how they cope. Some of the biggest challenges are financial, so we’ve spoken to experts on ways this Sandwich Generation can still protect its own financial goals.

Among the 169,000 unpaid family caregivers in Hawaii are thousands of baby boomers who find themselves sandwiched between two generations of family members that simultaneously need their help. Chances are good that you know a caregiver, are a caregiver or will become one. 

Just ask Kalowena Komeiji. While standing in line at Longs pharmacy, the 51-year-old regularly runs into baby-boomer friends who are also there to fill prescriptions for their aging parents. Nancy Azeri thinks of caring for her mom as so common, she calls it “a daughter’s rite of passage.” Indeed, the typical caregiver in Hawaii is a 46-year-old woman who works full time and spends 20 hours a week providing care to a loved one.

There are plenty of sons stepping up, too. Dexter Suzuki and Steve Tam both left full-time careers for the more-than-full-time job of caring for family members. Many in the Sandwich Generation are either retrofitting their homes for aging family members or moving in with them, as Beth Yos did when she relocated with her husband and four children from Kaimuk-ı into her father’s home in Kailua.


Kalowena Komeiji enjoys a light moment with her dad, Ernest Ching, and her daughter's boyfriend, Ali Sek.

Photo: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

Silver Tsunami

Thanks to the marvels of medical science, people are living longer than ever before (adults over age 80 are the fastest growing segment of the population), and most will spend years dependent on others for their most basic needs. The challenge is magnified in Hawaii, where the number of older adults has grown twice as fast as the national average over the past decade. Twenty years from now, one of every four people living here will be over 65.  Before the baby boomers become the ones who need help, they are the ones providing it—often at great cost to their families, their careers, their savings and their own health.
 

LIVING LONGER

While the median cost for a Medicare-certified home health aide in Honolulu is around $24 an hour, and assisted living costs a median of $42,000 a year, nursing-home costs in Honolulu can top $300 a day, climbing into six-figure territory per year, according to the Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey released in April 2009.

Ethan Okura, an estate-planning attorney at Okura & Associates, says even when some people take out a long-term care insurance policy, it may fail to cover actual expenses down the road.

“What used to be $3,000 a month in coverage when the policy was taken out is now $9,000, so the insurance isn’t enough,” he says. “Once they run out of personal cash to cover shortfalls, they need to get on Medicaid. Long-term care insurance can be useful, but many are uninsured or underinsured.”

Being In Two Places At One Time

Suzuki was a pretty busy guy in 2008, with a full-time job, two young sons and a wife based in Los Angeles as a flight attendant. But when his 83-year-old mother with dementia fell and broke her hip, the responsibility fell to Dexter, an only child, to manage more and more of her life. He spent a year trying to do so while working. On some days, he’d get phone calls from his mother 15 minutes apart; worse were the days when none came. That uneasy feeling is an ever-present state of mind for members of the Sandwich Generation.

 “The phone rings, and you get nervous,” says Komeiji, who juggles a job at Hawaii Community Foundation and caring for her 88-year-old dad. Her 23-year-old daughter moved back home with her boyfriend to help her. For Azeri, executive assistant to the COO of Halek-ulani Hotel, her “other job” includes helping with a special-needs granddaughter and with her 85-year-old mom, who moved here to be close to her daughter. “There seems to be a different issue to deal with nearly every day,” said Azeri, whose routine for a time was to call her mother twice daily and stop by every night after work.

The challenge of staying fully focused at work is affecting one in four employees in the United States, where productivity lost to caregiving is estimated to cost businesses up to $29 billion a year. No wonder savvy employers are looking into flex time, flex place and on-site adult daycare.
 

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