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A Guide To Caring for Aging Family Members

There are over 43 million caregivers in the United States. According to an AARP 2015 report, these unpaid caregivers provide over 470 billion dollars worth of value based on the time and services performed. A new addition to the family structure, caregivers are often spouses, stay-at-home parents, children, or other relatives who provide health services to aging family members.

There are two types of caregivers: informal and formal. A majority fall into the informal category, coming in the form of unpaid family members, but there are professional paid caregivers, the formal category. As loved ones age, thinking about the type of care and protection they will need makes this conversation of caregiving crucial.

The rise of unpaid caregivers has soared in the past 10 years. A significant portion of our economy is built on much more than money -  it hinges on the work of these informal caregivers who provide so much unpaid labor to keep the weaker members of our society functioning. We should all pay respect to these individuals and help shed light on the immense value they bring.

If you find yourself nearing a time in your life when you may have caregiving responsibilities, I’d like to provide a guide for you to work through the next steps to keep both your financial and emotional life in order.

Role Reversal

Once you are caring for a parent or elderly loved one, the dynamic of your relationship will change, often drastically. No longer are they looking after you; you are looking after them. This change can cause some discomfort and even some resentment. It is important to be aware of this possibility and its abrasive side effects.

Even if your loved one expresses a desire for your help, proceeding in a delicate manner can help both of you ease into this new phase of your relationship. It needs to be done with an emphasis on communication. Communication will be a swift and reliable tool for you throughout your caregiving journey.  It is best to keep these essentials in mind:

  • Keep the line of communication open

  • Express problems or concerns in a constructive manner

  • Talk about what is working and what is not

  • Have the tough conversations

    • Establish a power of attorney and a medical directive (“living will”)

    • Revisit the estate plan - the will and any trusts that need to be set up

By promoting these honest conversations throughout the caregiving process, you are laying a clear path forward which will help you and your loved one feel more secure and comforted.

Understand the Type of Care Needed

Every person has different needs.  This is true for all phases of life but especially in the final phases of life.  Understanding the scope of your loved one's care needs is essential to making your caregiving plan effective.. Find out the answers to the questions below to help you determine the level of care needed and how you either can or cannot perform those duties yourself:

  • What type of care is needed?

  • How many hours of care will be needed per week?

  • What costs are associated with the care?

Once you determine the answers to these questions, be honest with yourself about the amount of care you are able to provide. These questions are best discussed with your own families.  Few elderly parents want their children to wreck their own families just to provide super care for them. The same AARP report from above estimates that caregivers often spend an average of 24.4 hours per week on care - three to four hours per day. Your situation may require more or less, but having a ballpark range can be helpful in realistically determining what you will be able to do.

Don’t Go It Alone

Many caregivers have to give up full-time work in order to adequately perform the duties required for the level of care needed. This may not be something you want or are able to do without serious consequences for your own immediate family , and in that case, I implore you to find ways to share your caregiving responsibilities.

Call on other family members.

Create a caregiving schedule and have each family member contribute in ways that best suits them: planning, shopping, finances, chores, errands, etc. There are many areas where family can jump in to help share the load with you.

Lean on programs.

There are many programs that can help you such as an adult day program, which would free up your day to be at work.

Hire additional aid.

As discussed before, there are professional caregivers you can hire to help you. This service can be quite expensive, so try to share the financial responsibility with other family members if possible.

Talk with your financial advisor.

They will be able to help you manage your finances and help you seek out government services that can alleviate some caregiving costs.  States vary widely in the level of support they can provide.

Caregiving is a huge responsibility, one that will generate many lifestyle changes for you and your loved ones. Before assuming the duties full time, take a critical look at the situation - the level of care, the financial obligations, your personal well being and your immediate family’s - to help craft a plan that will be right for you and your loved one.

Need help? Contact me today. I’m here to help you work through all aspects of your financial plan - including helping you incorporate personal care into an overall strategy that best fits your own individual situation.