Whether you’re not yet a family caregiver or you are just stepping into the role, you might be surprised by how much effort, money, and energy goes into this new responsibility.
For many caregivers, what starts as a trip to the grocery store here and a ride to the doctor’s office there often leads to moving a loved one into the guest bedroom and managing their day-to-day finances. Feeling responsible for a loved one, they assume the full burden of caregiving — without regard to their own needs.
Maybe you resist bringing up the topic of assisted living because you feel guilty or because you assume caring for your loved one at home is more affordable. Whatever your reason, you should know that providing home care is fraught with financial risks and personal sacrifices, too.
Here’s a look at what it can really cost to be a family caregiver for an aging loved one as well as some practical advice for how to make sure you don’t lose everything — including your sanity.
1. Your Relationships Become Strained
You might have a good relationship with your sister now, but what happens when you’re handling 90% of the caregiving tasks and she critiques how you handled a conversation with your dad about driving?
Sensitive family dynamics can be one of the most challenging aspects of caregiving for an aging loved one. Emotions are high. Watching a parent decline is challenging enough. Add in taking on tasks for which you have no training and making decisions about finances and care, and it can be downright overwhelming. Frustration, resentment, anger, and defensiveness are common — and normal — emotions.
Unfortunately, the stress of caregiving often bleeds into other relationships, too. Nearly half of caregivers say caregiving damaged their romantic relationships. And for the sandwich generation, caregiving can take a toll on children, too. What do you when your daughter’s school calls saying she’s sick at the same time that your mom falls and sets off her personal alert device?
To make sure strained relationships don’t hinder your family’s ability to provide the best care for your parent, have a family meeting to get everyone on the same page about caregiving roles and responsibilities.
If it ever becomes too difficult, complex, or emotional, consider assisted living. You won’t resent your brother because you live in the same town as your dad and he doesn’t, and you won’t have to leave your son’s school performance because your mom forgot to pick up her prescription at the pharmacy. Instead, the entire family will be able to spend quality time with your parents in assisted living.
2. Your Parent Starts to Resent You
Are you stressed out because your dad refuses to use his walker or your mom has piles of unopened letters sitting on the counter? As your parent ages and you notice they struggle more with managing money, taking medications, and performing housework, it’s normal to want to swoop in and help out.
It’s also normal if your parent finds that “help” not very helpful. Although they might start to need help with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) — complex tasks that are necessary for truly independent living, such as cooking, shopping, and driving — there’s a fine line between caring and overbearing.
If you become a helicopter child and try to parent your parent, don’t be surprised if they start to resent you.
When you do the grocery shopping for your mom or drive your dad to the doctor, it can make them feel like they no longer have freedom, independence, and options. Although you may be trying to be helpful, the message you’re sending, intentional or not, is that your parent isn’t competent.
Instead of swooping in and taking over, let them choose their preferred date and time for setting appointments and schedules. If your dad fumbles with the key when trying to unlock a door, you should be patient and wait, rather than grabbing the key and taking over.
If your parent really does need assistance with IADLs, home care can be a great option. A personal care aide can come in for an hour here or there to help with grocery shopping, food prep, and housekeeping. It’s a good time to start looking into assisted living options when your parent starts to struggle with activities of daily living, such as bathing, toileting, dressing.
3. You Burn Out
How often do you get the full eight hours of sleep they always say you need? Sick of feeling like can’t do anything right or that things just don’t go as planned no matter what you do or how hard you try?
Caregiving is demanding, stressful, and exhausting. Family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care, and nearly 1 in 4 caregivers spends 41 hours or more per week providing care.
If you don’t get the help you need or if you try to do more than you are able — physically or financially — you’re going to burn out. Symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
- Having trouble relaxing, even when help is available
- Having much less energy than you once had
- Withdrawing socially from friends and/or family
- Feeling increasingly resentful
- Experiencing apathy
Many caregivers feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their loved one. But how helpful can you really be if you’re fatigued, stressed, anxious, or depressed? When you’re burned out, it’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else.
Although caring for a loved one will never be stress-free, you can rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.
If your loved one’s need for care is wearing you out, then it’s probably time to explore assisted living. However, if your loved one is safe and healthy at home and neither of you is sure it’s time for assisted living just yet, try respite care first.
Respite care provides caregivers a temporary rest from caregiving while their loved one gets to test the waters of assisted living. Also known as short-term stays, respite care visitors receive the same comforts and amenities as assisted living residents, and it provides them with the chance to interact with others having similar experiences, spend time in a safe and supportive environment, and participate in social activities.
4. Your Career Derails
It’s hard to make every work meeting while also taking your mom to the doctor, the bank, or the post office — all tasks that need to happen during the workday. If you’re one of the 60% of family caregivers who are employed, it’s only a matter of time before you have to rearrange your work schedule, decrease your hours, or take unpaid leave in order to meet your caregiving responsibilities.
Some caregivers leave the workforce entirely in order to provide full-time care for a loved one, and they may struggle to get another job when their time as a caregiver comes to an end. The loss of career advancement opportunities and income adds up, especially for women. Over time, researchers put the lost wages and benefits for a female caregiver at $324,044.
Although businesses are more aware of caregiver issues, the business community hasn’t made any great strides in providing options. You might consider scheduling time to talk with your boss about your situation. Reassure that you remain willing and able to do your job but that you may also need some help and understanding while attending to caregiving demands.
Ask about flexible work schedules, telecommuting, changing your work hours, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which offers 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.
If taking unpaid leave isn’t an option, consider hiring home care or exploring your assisted living options.
5. You Become Isolated
How long has it been since you made plans with your friends? Do you think to yourself, “They don’t want to hear about it anymore” or “I have nothing to talk about because my life is all about caregiving.”
Caregivers can often become consumed with caregiver duties. They don’t have as much time to take care of themselves, and they can often feel cut off from the outside world. It’s also easy to feel like no one really understands what you’re going through.
This can lead to a withdrawal from activities and relationships that you previously enjoyed. And the longer you are a caregiver, the more isolated you become.
One of the best ways to combat isolation and loneliness is to build some time into your caregiving routine to focus on yourself. Get together with a friend for lunch, go on a walk in the park with your son, or chat with your spouse over coffee. When you engage in these types of activities regularly, you’ll gain a greater sense of control over your own life and present feelings of helplessness and depression.
If you need someone to talk to who understands your situation, find a local support group or online support forum. Talking with fellow caregivers may offer a feeling of community in the midst of your isolation.
Finally, reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging for resources about respite programs that will allow you to get a much-needed and well-deserved break or assisted living communities that will give you the opportunity to be your parent’s son or daughter — not caregiver — again.
To read about how respite care and assisted living helped two families cope with the challenges of being caregivers, download our eBook How Moving My Loved One to The Arbors Eliminated My Caregiving Challenges.