Being a Caregiver for an Aging Parent Brings a Huge Emotional Cost, As Well As a Financial One
One of the reporters we enjoy reading as we scour the web for good topics for the AgingOptions blog is Liz Weston of NerdWallet. (Her column also appears in the Sunday Seattle Times, our hometown newspaper.) Weston seems to have a knack for spotlighting practical aspects of aging that we all need to be reminded of, and we think this recent NerdWallet column is a case in point, as she describes the high cost – emotional and financial – of being a caregiver.
Weston’s observations in this column won’t come as a surprise to those who have already learned the hard way that being a caregiver carries a heavy emotional toll, and a huge financial one as well. The devastating impact that caring for an aging loved one can have on your financial health is a phenomenon that can be easy to overlook – until one is caught in the vise between providing care and working (or trying to) at your regular job. Often when something has to give, it’s the caregiver’s livelihood that takes a hit.
Caregivers Don’t Anticipate the Heavy Financial Toll
Weston begins her article with empathy for caregivers who also work outside the home. “Trying to work while caring for an aging loved one can be difficult, stressful and at times overwhelming,” she writes. “Many people feel they must quit, take a leave of absence or at least reduce their hours in order to cope.”
Sadly, this situation is all-too common, as caregivers enter into care without realizing what a damaging toll it can take on their finances. Once they’re in it, they find they have very few options available to them.
Amy Goyer, the family caregiving expert at AARP, says, “When you’re in a caregiving crisis, you can make a decision out of stress and fatigue and fear. It’s important to make work decisions and financial decisions from a more objective place.”
The Immediate Cost – and the Future Cost
Weston quotes a startling statistic: “A 2020 AARP study found 61 percent of caregivers to adults were employed, and the majority had experienced at least one work-related impact. Most commonly, that meant being late to work, having to leave early or taking time off, but caregivers also reported having to take unpaid leave or reduce their hours. One in 10 working caregivers quit or retired early.” That is a significant number of workers!
And the impact of leaving work can completely derail the caregiver’s financial future. Current income is lost, yes, but also future raises, retirement contributions, and company matches. “Their future Social Security checks may be smaller, and many find they can’t earn as much when they return to work because their skills are out of date. A few years out of the workforce — AARP’s study found the average caregiving period was 4 1/2 years — can leave you hundreds of thousands of dollars poorer at retirement,” Weston explains.
Investigating the Caregiving Alternatives
The same AARP study found that “caregivers are less likely to quit if they have certain benefits at work, including paid sick days or unpaid family leave,” Weston writes, and she adds, “Among the most helpful benefits for caregivers are flexible schedules, the ability to work from home and paid family leave.”
Many caregivers simply don’t know what avenues are available to them. “Under federal law,” Weston writes, “through the Family and Medical Leave Act, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period to care for a child, spouse or parent (although not an in-law or other relative). Eligible employees can keep their health insurance and return to the same or an equivalent job.” This rises to a possible 26 weeks for those caring for a veteran.
Other requirements apply, such as hours worked and the locations of those employed, but this leave is worth pushing for if you’re eligible, according to AARP’s Goyer. She urges caregivers to try breaking up that leave, taking one or two days off per week. But Goyer advises, “Before quitting, you should ask what accommodations your employer is willing to offer. Just the ability to make personal calls at work can help caregivers trying to contact doctors or other professionals who aren’t available after hours.”
Seeking Help from Outside Sources
There are other outside services available to ease the caregiving burden. Weston writes, “Many communities offer affordable help that can make caretaking easier, such as Meals on Wheels, adult day care, senior companions, chore services, transportation and respite care.”
Goyer encourages caregivers to contact a local “Area Agency on Aging”, public or private nonprofit organizations that address the needs of older residents. These services can tell you what’s available and can even provide “an in-home assessment of your loved one’s needs.”
If your loved one is a veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs can be a good place to start, including asking for “aid and attendance” benefits for home-based care. Goyer adds, “If your loved one is impoverished, they may qualify for in-home care at no cost to them through Medicaid. Some states even pay family members to provide such care. Check your state’s Medicaid site for more information.”
It won’t necessarily replace a full income, but it’s often a huge help to bridge the gap.
Consider Hiring a Geriatric Care Manager
“If you can afford one, a geriatric care manager could be another source of help,” Weston writes. “These professionals, who are often nurses or social workers, can assess your loved one’s situation, find care options and be on call in case of emergency. Hourly fees often range from $100 to $250.”
But if hiring a professional isn’t in the cards, asking other family members, friends, or even neighbors can yield surprising results. “A relative who doesn’t live close by could still help by paying bills or dealing with insurance companies, for instance. A neighbor could check in regularly and call you with any concerns,” Weston explains.
In the end, quitting or reducing your working hours may end up being inevitable, but Stacey Watson of Fidelity encourages doing the research anyway. “Even if you do need to quit or reduce your working hours, doing this research can help you create a caregiving plan that details how you’ll manage the day-to-day responsibilities, who will help you, where you can turn in an emergency and how you’ll take care of your mental and emotional health,” she told NerdWallet. “Putting a plan in place can make a huge difference.”
And you know we agree with that!
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(originally reported at www.nerdwallet.com)