If you are the child of an aging parent, chances are the day will come when you will find yourself in the role of caregiver for them. While this is all something we hope will never happen, it is realistically a likelihood, and something for which you should be prepared. When you assume the role of caregiver, it can take a great emotional toll seeing someone you love gradually lose the ability to do things on their own. Unfortunately, embracing this role may have some unintended consequences in other areas of your life as well.
Being a caregiver to an aging parent requires a number of tasks. These include household chores, paying bills, handling personal care issues, administering medications, providing emotional support, making and attending appointments with physicians, serving as an advocate for your loved one when they are hospitalized, and hiring and supervising any in-home care workers. It is estimated that handling all of this takes 21 hours per week on average. Therefore, it is likely to require you to take time off of work. According to the American Associate of Retired Persons (AARP) report, “Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving,” 69% of caregivers report making adjustments to their work schedule to handle caregiving responsibilities. This includes coming in late, leaving early, taking paid leave, cutting back on overall work hours, changing jobs, or even stopping work entirely. According to the AARP, if an individual aged 50 and over is forced to leave the workforce to assume the role of caregiver, they will lose approximately $115,900 in wages, $137,980 in Social Security benefits, and $50,000 in retirement benefits.
Adding to the financial toll of lost wages is the high cost of caregiving expenses, such as hiring home health care workers to aid your loved one while you are at work. The AARP’s document shows caregivers aged 50 and over reporting they spent approximately 10% of their annual income on caregiving expenses, which was $5,531 on average. 23% of caregivers stated they cut back on their own healthcare needs in order to do so.
While cutting back on your own healthcare needs is a bad idea under any circumstances, it is especially ill-advised while you are taking care of a loved one. One reason behind this is that it can take a great toll on your mental health. Research shows that between 40 and 70 percent of family caregivers display clinically significant symptoms of depression, with 25 to 50% of those patients meeting diagnostic criteria for major depression. The act of caregiving can have an impact on your physical health as well. Studies show that caregivers can have an increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, poor immune function, slow wound healing, sleep issues, and stroke. You may also experience social isolation as a result of having no time for your usual activities, which only exacerbates these issues.
Sharing this information is not meant to frighten you about this important role in your life. Rather, we hope it will assist you in making the necessary preparations to minimize financial and health stresses in your life as much as possible during this time.