Overwhelmed by the Costs of Elder Care

One woman risks her own financial future to care for her grandparents.

ByABC News

Feb. 21, 2008— -- Ray Payton hoped that someday she'd have babies to take care of, her own kids to shop for and a family for whom she'd put aside some money from time to time. And she hoped that "someday" would have come by now.

But right now, Payton is worrying about a precariously high stack of bills for the prescription medications her two surviving grandparents rely on. Then there are the home-care bills.

Her grandfather, Dowell, is blind and her grandmother, Vidalia, has dementia.

Payton believes it is her duty to support them however she can and whatever it costs, even though the bills are overwhelming.

"I am their granddaughter," Payton said. "I am all they have left."

Right now, it is costing her plenty in time. Working as a computer specialist, she starts work every morning at 6 and takes off every other Friday so she has more afternoons to be with them.

She's right that her aging relatives don't have much family left. Her own parents are dead. And though she and her husband are in their late 30s, they still put off having kids because of the responsibility.

She has learned one very important lesson in the process: Save your money.

The costs of living and sometimes ailing from sickness are eating through her grandparents' savings. They both need round-the-clock care, which comes to $16,000 a month. Payton said she knows that sometime soon the only funds available will be her own savings, and the cost could be her financial future.

"Maybe my mutual funds, I don't know, and that is why I cannot think too far in advance," she explained. "Because it brings too many emotions."

And everything just got more complicated. A few weeks ago, her grandfather fell and fractured his hip. Now he is in a rehabilitation center, which means more bills for Payton as well as the creeping fear that he'll never get home.

There is frustration growing on Payton's face, in knowing that taking care of them just might break her.

"I am afraid of losing him. I am afraid of every decision I make. I am afraid of leaving them alone," Payton admitted. "I am afraid of what am I going to do with my retirement after I do all of this for them. I am not as young as I wish I were, so I don't have 30, 40 years to make up the difference and yet we are burning through a substantial amount of money."

And you look at her grandparents now, and you look at them in days gone by. They were once young and strong caregivers themselves -- much like Payton. Payton only hopes that when her turn comes, she'll either have some money put away or kids of her own to help her.

Right now, though, she's at risk of having neither.

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