Being a caregiver for your loved one can be a rewarding experience. It may also be hard to balance working full time, raising your children and trying to save for their college tuition or retirement – all while caring for your aging parent. There are an estimated 34 million Americans providing care for their older family members. Providing care for your parent can sometimes come at a cost – helping pay for their groceries, medication, medical co-payments or transportation.
This guide will provide a brief overview of the costs of becoming a family caregiver, how to receive outside help and other resources available to help guide you through this process.
Costs of Caregiving
Caregivers often take on the responsibility of paying for their loved one’s daily expenses such as groceries, household goods, transportation and medical payments. According to a study, 34% of caregivers report they spend $300 or more per month of caregiving expenses, and 54% have sacrificed spending money on themselves to pay for care of their parents.
Many caregivers spend the equivalent time of an entire work week to caregiving activities such as transportation to a doctor’s appointment, cooking or cleaning. This can lead to time away from your own job, caring for your family or spending time with friends. Where does that leave time for caring for yourself?
Steps for Family Caregivers
As you make the transition of becoming your loved one’s caregiver and no longer just their daughter or son – it’s important to understand your new responsibilities. Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take as you become their family caregiver.
- Understand your parent’s financial situation. Do they have insurance, a savings account or another way to help pay for caregiving expenses? Knowing what they can and can’t afford will help you make decisions on their caregiving needs.
- Create legal health documents. Have your parent fill out a will and healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy. It may be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it’s important to outline your loved one’s wishes in case of a sudden serious illness.
- Learn about their medical condition or illness. Make an appointment with your loved one’s doctor and ask them to do an assessment of your parent. Call ahead of time to let their doctor know about any issues they’ve been facing. You may also ask your parent to complete a Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization so you can have direct access to their healthcare information.
- Assess their overall health and well-being. AARP has a checklist that includes questions about their physical and mental health, safety, medication and more. This can help you gain a better understanding of your parent’s health, safety and happiness.
- Talk with family members. Discuss the issues your loved one is facing with your family members. Ask for their input and help with making a decision for your parent. Check out these strategies for how to unite a family when caring for an aging parent.
- Research options available in your area. Start looking for resources available in your community. There may be services such as Meals on Wheels, adult day care, respite stays (a short-term stay at a senior living community to give you a break from caregiving) or other options.
Questions to Consider
Before you make the decision to become the family caregiver for your loved one, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I physically able to care for my loved one? Talk with your doctor about whether you’re able to care for your loved one or not.
- Can I make the financial commitment? Caregiving can be an expensive undertaking. Review your financial situation with your family. See the list below for Financial Resources available.
- Do I have the time to add an additional responsibility to my life? Will other family members be able to help? Keep in mind the time commitment of caregiving for your loved one. The average caregiver spends at least 20 hours each week caregiving for their loved one, while nearly one in four caregivers spend at least 41 hours or more per week providing care.
- Will I make all the decisions about my loved one’s health? Talk with your family members about who will be responsible for making the decisions about their care needs. Such as having to decide if they would have to move to an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility.
- Will I have a support system? It’s important to find friends and family that are willing to help you with caregiving activities and give you emotional support. Having a support system will decrease your chances of experiencing caregiving stress.
There are a variety of state and national government programs available to help pay for caregiving costs.
- Benefits.gov compiles a list of programs available that may help your parent. You’ll be promoted to answer questions about your parent’s health, disability, income, assets, military service and education level.
- Area Agency on Aging is a federally mandated program in your county or city. It’s staffed by professionals knowledgeable about elder programs and services, including available financial sources in your area. The staff person can give you advice about programs and qualifications and help prepare the necessary applications and documentation.
- Medicare is an option if your aging parent is 65 or older and collecting Social Security. Their insurance premiums are deducted from monthly benefits. Prescription drug coverage (Part D) is subsidized by Medicare, which pays private insurers to fund about 90 percent of the cost of prescription drugs. If your parent is considered low income and receives only Social Security, Medicare may subsidize most of their monthly premiums.
- Social Security benefits are based on lower-paying jobs and if benefits are their sole source of income, they can apply for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program to receive a larger monthly benefit. Medicaid is also administered through the Social Security Administration.
- Administration on Aging (AoA) administers many national programs and services for elderly adults, including health insurance counseling, legal assistance, elder abuse protection and help with long-term care. This is a great starting point for you to use to find help and resources.
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is available to your aging parent if they’re a military veteran and has a service-related disability, you may be able to apply for an increase in benefits, particularly if the disability has become worse. If they need continuing medical care because of the disability, you can submit an application for medical benefits, hospitalization and prescription drugs. You can also call the VA at (800) 827-1000.
- Americans with Disabilities is an option for your parent if they have a disability, particularly concerning physical movement.
- The U.S. Senator and Representatives has a senator with a staff specialist on elder affairs, programs and services. Most representatives in the United States Congress also have staff specialists on elder affairs. These staffers can both advise about and advocate for benefits or services for your parent.
There may also be help provided by state agencies depending on where you live. For example, in Massachusetts, your parent may qualify for Medicaid/MassHealth programs that include the Group Adult Foster Care Program, the Personal Care Attendant Program and the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.
Making the Decision About Caregiving Needs
Becoming a family caregiver for your loved one is a big undertaking. Set realistic expectations for yourself before you make the commitment. It’s important that you’re able to still make time for your own family, career and overall health and well-being. If you think it might be too much of a time commitment or financial commitment, you may want to consider the possibility of assisted living. Living in an assisted living community provides your loved one with a supportive environment surrounded by other friends and neighbors, with the peace of mind knowing that 24/7 care is available. You can compare the costs of providing care to an assisted living community and see which one may be more affordable.
You want your loved one to receive the best possible care. By talking with your family members and taking into consideration all of the responsibilities of being a family caregiver, you can help provide the best caregiving situation for your loved one.