Family Caregiving: Priceless?

When we think about caregiving options, we often consider the costs of home care, a nursing home and assisted living facility—and on the flip side, the costs avoided, should a family member be able to provide care. Those of us who have experienced caring for a family member, however, know that the costs of family caregiving are anything but avoided.

Consider Heather who has had to miss work because she is the sole caregiver for her mother. Her mother’s health is declining rapidly, and she thinks she will have to take an unpaid leave of absence from work in order to provide care. Or Margaret. She gave up her job two years ago to become a full-time caregiver for her widowed father who has Alzheimer’s disease. And John. He flies between his home in Virginia to Ohio twice monthly to oversee his mother’s care. In addition to lost income, caregivers spend over $1,000 per month, on average, out of personal savings for expenses directly related to caregiving. All of these family caregivers, and many others, pay a monetary price, along with an emotional one, caring for people they love.

When people have to miss work to care for a family member, they not only lose income; they often miss out on opportunities for promotion. And when people have to leave their jobs to care for family members, they lose income, promotion opportunities and social security credits. The impact of this ‘choice’ negatively impacts one’s earning capacity for an entire lifespan.

While it may be an optimal option, family caregiving is not ‘priceless in the least.

As of 2012, there were 65.7 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. This translates into 20.6 percent of the entire population. Currently, the economic value of unpaid family caregiving is $450 billion. As our overall population ages, the numbers as well as the burden on family caregivers is expected to increase.

What this suggests is that we have to begin thinking of ways to alleviate the financial drain on families caused by this familial obligation. After all, we want families to care for their own. In general, it means better care. And it is certainly less costly to society.

One way to ease the financial burden is to draw up an employment contract between the person receiving care and the caregiver that outlines the services that will be provided and specifies a wage rate. With an employer/employee relationship in place, the caregiver can receive some income and maintain their employed status for social security purposes. Families considering this option should consult with an elder law attorney to make sure they have a proper contract in place. Some Medicaid programs pay family caregivers. This option is something to explore if the person needing care is on Medicaid and is eligible for home care assistance.

But we need to do more for families in order for families to care for their loved ones. There is an increasing amount of good information and support for family caregivers. In addition, we need to recognize and find solutions to the financial burden that caregiving imposes on caregivers and their families. And if we do that, it might, just might, help with the emotional stress as well.

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