Caregivers Need Care

Non-professional family caregivers shoulder a huge burden. According to research from the Transamerica Institute, many “are providing care at their own risk.” Across a diverse population, 55 percent of respondents “say that their own health is taking a back seat to the health of their care recipient,” while a whopping 69 percent gave “little or no consideration to their own financial situation when deciding to become a caregiver.” While the vast majority of caregivers (87 percent) are caring for a family member, the demographic breakdown of the group is changing: 53 percent are women and 47 percent are men, spread across a variety of age groups and income levels.

When asked why they are providing care, not surprisingly, most do so out of love for the recipient. But those emotions can be costly. Caregivers spend $150 per month (median) out-of-pocket to cover expenses for their care recipient—and that amount increases with a caregiver’s household income. Additionally, of the more than half who are fully employed, their family obligation may be negatively impacting their employment situation, due to using vacation and sick days, to reducing their retirement plan contributions or even in some extreme cases, to quitting their jobs.

Given the high stakes, it’s more important than ever to start conversations before your older relatives need care. It can help to use an article like this one, to open the conversation. You can also ask about a friend or other relative who may be coping with the situation. For example, “Who is helping out Aunt Alice? Is she happy with the arrangement? Is that something you would want, if you were in her situation?”

And while you may feel weird about it, I’m sorry to say that you will have to bring up money, which according to AARP, is “often at the heart of decisions you’ll make as a caregiver.” Try to glean how much is available to cover potential costs. With extended life expectancies, the pile of money that seems adequate at age 70 may not be enough to provide for paid care at age 80.

Before you bury your head in the sand, remember those survey results—ongoing needs for aging has steep financial costs not just for the older person but also for the caregiver him/herself. One friend of mine recently had to forego a plum promotion, because it would have required a large amount of travel, which would have been impossible to juggle with her unpaid job as her father’s caregiver.

If you are in the soup of being the primary caregiver, here are some tips:

Ask for help: Although one person usually serves as the primary caregiver, he or she is still entitled to ask for help. In a small family, maybe it’s a friend of yours or your parents’ who can fill in with mundane tasks like driving and meal planning.

Check your employee benefits: Some companies are partnering with organizations that provide assistance, which may include access to a social worker to discuss options; coordination of health and medical benefits; help locating on-the-ground aides; and emotional support for the entire family.

Create a central location for notes about the relative: A Google document can highlight the schedule, doctors’ appointments and other important information. The document does not obviate the need for visits or telephone conversations, but it’s an efficient way to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Take off a day from time to time: The grueling emotional demands on a caregiver can have a physical impact too. Be sure to encourage caregivers and remind them to take care of themselves too.