When it comes to supporting clients in preparing for chronic illness, many advisors are challenged in understanding women’s unique risks. Women’s longevity, likelihood of chronic illness, and caregiving are some of the factors influencing these risks, and Prudential is bringing them to light.
When equipped with the right knowledge, advisors can have more positive and productive conversations with clients that facilitate adequate preparation. One of the core realities in these conversations is that—when compared with men—women live longer and are more likely to be disabled.
Prudential Advisors Financial Representatives Barbara Pietrangelo, Maddie Brooks, Amanda Panico and Joseph Nugent, as well as Dr. Bob Pokorski, vice president and medical director, Individual Life Insurance, shared practical insights around women’s unique challenges when facing their roles as caregivers and their likelihood of experiencing chronic illnesses, especially late in life.
According to Dr. Pokorski, women are more likely to be ill because they live longer, and they are more likely to live with an illness for a longer period of time. Alzheimer’s disease is the greatest threat and challenge, he says.
Underestimating life expectancy
Underestimating longevity is also a threat. Barbara Pietrangelo shared one such experience when talking with a client and his spouse about long term planning. “They said, ‘We’re not going to live that long. We probably don’t need to plan out to 90 or 100.’” After further conversation, the same client admitted having a living parent who is 95. Even though people have personal experience with long-lived, close relatives, they continue to underestimate their own needs.
After someone understands how long he or she might live, Pokorski said, “The next question is, ‘Where are you going to be receiving care?’ It’s news to a lot of people that it’s going to be at home.” According to Pokorski, most people believe that if they need chronic illness care later in life, they will receive it in a nursing home. In fact, the vast majority of chronic illness care is provided at home by family caregivers.
The costs to caregivers
Caregivers often face physical, emotional and financial repercussions from caregiving.
When discussing the likelihood that a female family member will be the one to provide care, Maddie Brooks shared that she had personal experience with providing care to a family member in the past. According to Brooks, people underestimate the ripple effect on the caregiver’s partner and children. “Some people don’t realize how the branch spreads throughout the family unit when this happens to a loved one.”
She also says that many people underestimate the toll it takes on the caregiver herself, including back injuries from lifting, lack of sleep, and a general deterioration in health from stress.
As a caregiver, more demands are placed on women’s time, which can take away from exercise, getting preventive screenings and vaccinations, and even eating well, according to Pokorski. Depending on how much time must be devoted to care, there may be negative impacts at work, including decreased work hours and income, increased absenteeism, less likelihood of promotion, inability to travel for work and decreased work performance. In some cases, women face giving up paid work entirely for caregiving.
Pokorski said that after caring for a parent, a male spouse is the next person in the family who usually needs care. And he noted that a lot is expected of the women who care for them. “They provide more complex care, too, in addition to tasks like transporting loved ones to the doctor and helping with paying bills. They are also taking care of toileting, feeding people, and helping with the activities of daily living. The kind of care we’re talking about is pretty dramatic.”
According to Amanda Panico, giving up work and wages for caregiving creates a vicious cycle if an elderly parent hasn’t properly planned for their own chronic illness care needs. “That extra 20 hours a week she’s giving you care, she can’t earn money to save for her own retirement, her own chronic illness care, or other funds for future needs. Now that daughter won’t have the resources she needs in the future, and so her children may enter the same situation of caring for her and giving up their own earning potential.”
“There is a cost,” she said. “One of my clients had to quit her full-time job to care for parents who did not want to go to a nursing home. When it comes to her own retirement, that daughter is going to have lower Social Security when she collects it because she hasn’t been earning for 10 years, and her wage will be lower when she returns to the workforce. There are all kinds of impacts—emotional and financial.”
The financial impact of chronic illness
“I’ve seen financial obligations increase over the past 20 years of my career,” said Pietrangelo. “Most people don’t want to be a financial burden to their kids, but they don’t know what options are out there to help them.”
According to Pokorski, being a burden to family is a real fear. “Because women outlive men, they worry that a daughter will have to care for them.”
Joseph Nugent also has personal experience with a loved one with chronic illness, as his wife has Multiple Sclerosis. He and Mrs. Nugent cautioned that most people don’t think about the high cost of practical details that allow one to live at home comfortably and with quality. Nugent said they made many alterations to their home, including renovating bathrooms, creating wider doorways, and adding wheelchair accessibility.
Their golden years
Understanding the implications of chronic illness and longevity, Nugent and his wife inventory their financial plans and assets annually. “Even with doing a great job of making sure that things will be taken care of, there is still a worry of financial insecurity—what if something worse happens? I can’t imagine what it’s like in a situation where things are not taken care of. That would be extremely stressful, and that can exacerbate many medical conditions.”
The implications of being alone late in life are impactful. “A number of my female clients are widows or divorced. They are very concerned about something bad happening to them,” Nugent said.
Brooks, Nugent and Panico all noted that clients with personal experience in caring for someone with a chronic illness are more inclined to be open to a discussion about their own chronic illness care preparation.
The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.
© 2015 Prudential Financial, Inc. and its related entities.
 Feinberg, L., Testimony before the Commission on Long-Term Care, “Populations in need of LTSS and service delivery issues.” AARP Public Policy Institute, July 17, 2013.