WANTED: High-energy, extremely selfless and caring multitasker. Duties may include: negotiating the nation’s complex health system, arranging frequent trips to various medical facilities, maintaining a strict prescription schedule and daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, dressing, bathing and other household chores. Required skills: strong communicator, high stress tolerance and ability to lift more than 20 pounds. Must have a valid driver’s license and must be willing to work long hours and available on short notice. Salary: N/A.
If this job description sounds at all familiar to you, then you’re probably a family caregiver. In many respects, it is a full-time job. And, it is a job often done by patients’ families.
Around 44 million American adults provided unpaid care to an adult, according to a report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. More than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult who was age 50 or older. Nearly half of caregivers provided care for a parent or parent-in-law.
Though it is a part of life for many people, caregiving is not a certainty for everyone. Therefore, it doesn’t always make it into financial planning conversations. But, when you consider how much caregiving can affect your life, you may realize how important it is to explore your options.
The financial and personal costs of caregiving
It’s common for an adult child or spouse to insist on being the sole caregiver for a loved one. They want to ensure their loved one is provided the right care. Taking on that responsibility, however, can lead to heavy financial and personal costs.
A Northwestern Mutual and Harris Poll survey found the majority (68%) of family caregivers provide some financial support, with 67% having to reduce living expenses and 63% withdrawing money from their savings or liquidating assets to provide care.
Further, 41% found themselves forced to cut their work hours or change schedules, 13% resigned from their jobs and 9% switched jobs or careers. These financial and work-related changes can have long-term ramifications that put your own lifestyle later in life in jeopardy.
Caregiving can also take a toll on your relationships and health. Family caregivers are often forced to choose between spending time providing care and spending time with family and friends. As a result, their own health suffers. In a survey from SCAN Health Plan, 44% of family caregivers said they suffer from emotional strain and 47% neglect their own health to provide care.
Where to get caregiving help
Unfortunately, few people prepare for the possibility of becoming a caregiver. In the Northwestern Mutual survey referenced above, barely more than half (52%) of respondents said their financial plan had measures in place, such as ways to cut spending or earn extra income, to pay for care.
Before putting yourself in a financially and emotionally stressful situation, consider where you can get help managing caregiving responsibilities.
Find local and state programs
Firstly, find out whether there are any local or state programs that will provide assistance. Some states have implemented programs that offer free services to support unpaid caregivers who care for older adults. You can also work directly with services such as Meals on Wheels and various ride-sharing services. Check what programs are available in your state by searching the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website: www.hhs.gov/aging
Hire a geriatric care manager
You can also hand off all care duties to an expert. A geriatric care manager is a licensed professional, usually a nurse or social worker, who can help you and your family assess the care needed and implement a plan to provide it. With a care manager, you’re essentially outsourcing all caregiving duties. They will coordinate care, arrange transportation, manage home care aides and address any other care issues, as needed. The downside is that such high-level service is not cheap. Though it may be possible to find a care manager who will work within your specific budget.
Work with a senior living referral service
If your loved one is willing to transition to senior living accommodations, there are referral services that can help you do all the legwork in finding a suitable location. Senior living referral services often provide a dedicated advisor who guides you through communities that best match your needs. Some are paid by participating communities, such as A Place for Mom, so there is no cost to you for their services.
Many of the financial and personal costs of caregiving are due to a lack of planning. Most people will find that with early planning, either before or at the beginning of providing care, you can create a more positive experience for your loved one and yourself. Instead of taking time to support them, you’re spending valuable time with them.