The numbers are staggering and increasing every year. According to recent estimates more than 30 million baby boomers provide countless hours of assistance to elderly parents at no charge, and that number increases every year. For caregivers who have, or are considering leaving the workforce to care for an ailing parent, the costs are over $650,000 in forfeited salaries, benefits and pensions. This stark economic reality shows only one dimension of the price caregivers pay for this act of love.
Caregivers pay with losses that extend well beyond their bank accounts. They often forego the activities that bring joy and richness to their lives, like meeting friends for dinner, or going out to the movies or taking family vacations. They pay with their time, the loss of professional opportunities and the erosion of personal relationships that result in isolation.
Sometimes, otherwise healthy loved ones need a short dose of care as they recover from an acute medical episode like a broken leg. Usually loved ones are on a path of steady decline with cascading assistance needs. Some caregivers sacrifice large chunks of their own lives as they help their parents and other family members and friends peacefully make their transitions. Caregivers can pay with their own health and well-being. In fact, we have evidence that some caregivers pay for their acts of care with their very lives.
You can decrease the personal and economic costs of caregiving. This means proactive planning rather than reactive responding. Planning saves money. You know this as you reflect upon your experiences of going to the grocery store with and without a shopping list. Planning also minimizes personal wear and tear and decreases stress. You will feel much better when you know your options and develop back-up plans before you jump into a challenging project.
5 Tips to Decrease the Cost of Caregiving:
- Begin the conversation today. We have tremendous cultural resistance to the recognition of aging, disability and death. Just as the first few steps uphill are the hardest, so, too, you may meet the greatest resistance simply starting the conversation about their possible need for care. For example, ask them what thoughts and plans do they have about enjoying their golden years?”
- Create a plan. Talk with your parents about their ideal plan if they are no longer able to care for themselves. Then, start to work toward that proactively. Investigate long-term care insurance. Draw up the appropriate legal documents. Find out who would make medical choices if they were not able to make them on their own, along with some guiding principles for the choices. Have an open discussion with your parents ahead of time so that you and your siblings know what to do in case of an emergency, or how they want their affairs to be handled.
- Use personal and community resources. Make caregiving a family job to which each member contributes. Even children can make grandma’s life special with drawings and phone calls. Identify services that make your job as a caregiver easier. If you and your parents live in the same community, check with friends and neighbors and local organizations to learn about services and resources that will help the whole family.
- Gather cost-savings tips. This might mean something as simple as ordering generic medication or regularly inquiring about senior discounts. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Tap into the resources others have collected. You can usually get quite a bit of help from your local senior resource center.
- Take care of yourself. You will be able to provide the best care as a caregiver when you’re at your best. Follow good nutritional habits and get plenty of sleep and regular exercise. Manage your stress and do a little something every day to nurture your soul. Understand that you are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and weakening your immune system. Talk to your doctor if you see worrisome signs such as problems sleeping, changes in appetite or loss of interest in activities you enjoy.
Despite the costs, at the end of the day most caregivers say that they received much more than they gave. Most say they would do it again, and many do. Sometimes the question is not the personal cost of caregiving; it’s the value that you bring to the lives of others that matter at the end.
What personal cost are you willing to pay for the privilege of helping those who welcomed you into the world to enjoy their golden years and travel the road of illness with love and dignity?