Close to 45 million Americans provide 38 billion hours of unpaid, “informal” care each year for older family members and friends living with chronic conditions that inhibit them from handling daily activities such as bathing, managing medications or preparing meals on their own. Here are five areas to think about if you are considering a caregiving role for a loved one:
- Diagnosis – Learn your family member’s diagnosis. Knowledge of issues affecting the elderly as well as how your loved one’s specific illness typically progresses is important for understanding both the big picture and the daily struggles. This will help in planning as well as knowing what to look for as their condition changes.
- Responsibilities – Think through the responsibilities involved in committing to caregiving. What does your loved one require help with now? What tasks can you support and at what point will you need to draw on outside support? Non-medical home caregiving often includes the following:
- Personal care and hygiene
- Housekeeping and laundry
- Meal planning and preparation
- Transportation to appointments and activities
- Medication reminders
- Socialization and companionship
- Memory care (for clients with Alzheimer’s or other memory-related impairment)
- Serving as communication liaison to other family members and loved ones
- Paying bills
- Lifestyle – Consider your current lifestyle and consider what impact caregiving will have on it. Taking on the caregiver role will certainly require additional time, energy and possibly costs on your behalf. How will this impact other aspects of your life, such as children still living at home, a demanding job, and other relationships in your life? Conversations with the important people in your life will be integral in creating a caregiving plan and gaining support for it, particularly if you will need to make significant adjustments to your current lifestyle.
- Living situation – What options are you willing to consider. Having your loved one remain in their own home, moving them in with you, hiring in-home care personnel to assist your caregiving, choosing an assisted living facility or nursing home are a few of the options available. Engage in a conversation with your loved one about their wishes and at what point they may be willing to consider alternatives. Define what is most important to them and look for solutions that will honor those wishes as much as possible. For example, independence may be a priority, so your loved one may be adamant about remaining in their own home. Remaining at home often symbolizes independence but could actually limit freedom because of reliance on a single or smaller network of caregivers than an assisted living facility can provide. On the other hand, remaining at home may be the preferred option until a certain daily activity triggers otherwise, such as no longer being able to drive.
- Finances – When considering caregiving options, be realistic about how caregiving will impact your finances as well as your loved one’s. Providing care may require adjusting your work schedule that may reduce your income. Additional costs include hiring in-home care moving to a facility. Talk to a financial planner as well as other family members about the costs of taking care of your loved one. What assets are available and how do the decisions you’re considering impact them?
Family caregivers, give over 75% of caregiving support in the United States. In 2009, the estimated monetary value of family caregivers’ unpaid contributions was estimated to be $450 billion, which is how much it would cost to replace that care with paid services. A life insurance policy may be an unrealized asset that works as a financial solution for your loved one’s long-term care needs.