As anyone knows who has served the needs of an infirm loved one, being a caregiver exacts a heavy emotional toll. Not only must the caregiver deal with the pain of watching a loved one in decline, but he or she must keep up their own strength for the day in, day out physical exertion that caregiving can demand. Being a caregiver can be a lonely road, leading to isolation and depression.
On top of the emotional pain, there’s another cost – a financial one. According to a recently-released report from the AARP, more than 40 million Americans serve as caregivers of one type or another, and the huge burden of their out-of-pocket unreimbursed expenses is typically unrecognized and under-reported. This significant financial load, as described in this article in the Washington Post, can strike the caregiver’s family “like a tsunami,” in the words of one 51-year-old woman from New Hampshire caring for her husband with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the AARP report, which surveyed nearly 1,900 family caregivers last year, the majority of caregivers – more than 75% – spend in excess of $7,000 annually on costs of care. Caregiving costs can easily consume as much as one-fifth of the caregiver’s income, a total which puts an especially heavy burden on lower-income households. Tragically, that spending total rises dramatically when caring for someone with dementia, averaging close to $11,000 per year. Generally, the older the person is who needs care, the greater the out-of-pocket costs. The woman from New Hampshire featured in the Washington Post article had been forced to deplete $168,000 from the couple’s retirement accounts before her husband was able to receive Social Security disability payments. He is now institutionalized.
According to the Washington Post report describing the findings in the AARP study, out-of-pocket expenditures by caregivers cover a wide range of expenses. Caregivers often shell out cash to renovate homes with safety features such as wheelchair ramps and bathroom grab bars. Some caregivers end up assuming a loved one’s mortgage and making other household payments. Then there’s the cost of specialized equipment including wheelchairs, scooters and beds, the cost of insurance premiums, and the high cost 0f home care aides or respite services. These can quickly add up to an overwhelming financial burden.
The AARP study also showed that caregiving takes a toll on the caregiver’s work and lifestyle. Nearly half said they had stopped taking vacations, and a similar number reported that they had been forced to compensate for extra out-of-pocket costs by cutting back on restaurant meals. Almost one caregiver in five had saved money by scaling back on their own doctor visits, while others saved by spending less on groceries and even dipping into their own children’s education funds. About a third of those holding jobs had been forced to change their hours or take time off, paid or unpaid.
While there’s no simple answer to the burden of caregiver costs, here at AgingOptions we do have a few suggestions. First, we encourage you and those closest to you to schedule a family conference at the earliest possible opportunity. These conferences, guided by our experienced and professional staff, will allow you and your family to plan ahead so that everyone is clear about their caregiving expectations and responsibilities. We’ve seen too many families fall apart because they failed to communicate clearly about these highly sensitive and important matters.
Also, if you are already in the difficult position of serving as a caregiver to someone you love, we encourage you to seek professional advice. Don’t continue to sink into deeper and deeper isolation and financial stress! We hope you will to contact us here at AgingOptions so we can discuss your situation and suggest ways to help alleviate the financial and emotional stress you’re facing. You may discover that there is support available to you through Medicaid or the Veteran’s Administration, for example. Senior centers and other state and local agencies may also be places where you can find assistance.
Another excellent way to get some fresh perspective is to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. During these highly popular, information-packed seminars, we cover a broad range of retirement-related issues including those particular challenges facing caregivers. Regardless of your situation, if you’re approaching retirement – or even if you’re just entering this exciting time of life – an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar is perfect for you, helping you see how all aspects of retirement planning – financial plans, legal affairs, medical insurance, family dynamics and housing choices – all work together. We assure you, this will be a few hours extremely well spent!
So feel free to contact us during the week and let us assist you. Alternately, for immediate LifePlanning Seminar registration, click here and select the seminar date, time and location of your choice. Then register online. We will count it a privilege to work with you to help you plan for a secure and fruitful retirement!
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)