June 25, 2007 — -- Forty-one percent of baby boomers who have a living parent are helping care for them -- with personal aid, financial help or both, according to a USA TODAY/ABC News/Gallup Poll of 689 baby boomers.
Of the 59 percent who aren't helping now, nearly half worry about their ability to do so in the future.
"It's like the pig moving through the python," says Kenneth Kamen, president of Mercadien Asset Management, a financial planning firm. "We can see it coming."
As the elderly population expands in numbers and longevity, the number of people who will be caring for elderly parents will increase every year.
The vast baby boom generation -- the 79 million people born from 1946 to 1964 -- will find themselves caring for aging parents.
That's starting to sink in for boomers, and the reality has begun to weigh on many of them: Can they afford to help financially? How will it affect their work and personal lives? Will Mother move in? Who will take care of her?
In 2004, the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP estimated that 61 percent of those who voluntarily cared for elderly people -- usually their own relatives -- were women.
Among those women, 41 percent were working full-time jobs at the same time.
In coming years, the percentage of non-paid caregivers who are working women is expected to rise, says John Rother, director of policy for AARP.
"We haven't caught up to the fact that most women are in the workforce," Rother says. "We're still living off the fantasy that people are at home who can do this without giving up much."
Nearly half of boomers with living parents (48 percent) say they've yet to speak with their parents about how they want to be cared for when they can no longer care for themselves, according to the USA TODAY poll. Assisted living? A nursing home? Move in with us? Does Dad have a will?
Of those who have discussed these matters with their parents, 32 percent found it very easy.
But an additional 38 percent said they found it somewhat or very difficult.
"Parents of the baby boomer generation, as a whole, keep things very, very close to the vest," says Kamen of Mercadien.
"This is the patriarchal generation, guys back from (World War II), who didn't want to talk to anyone about anything. It's amazing how little the baby boomers know about the financial situation of their parents."
If they haven't talked over the future yet with their parents, why not? Maybe boomers are simply blocking out reality.
The poll found that among those who haven't discussed the issue with their parents, 40% said no one else in their family has, either.