We all know being a caregiver can take an emotional toll. Unfortunately, it can also take a heavy financial toll. According to a recent Caring.com survey over 60% of caregivers worry about the impact care-giving is having on their savings. In addition, 42% are spending more than $5,000 a year on care. How is that possible? Many senior services are paid for privately (not through the government or insurance). Long-term care can quickly add up whether it’s in a facility or at home. Groceries, medical bills, and long distance phone calls are just a few examples of the costs that are often associated with care-giving (not to mention the cost of a facility itself). Another hard reality is that the caregiver is often forced to take time off from work, change jobs, or leave work all together in order to manage their care-giving responsibilities. This loss of income can deeply impact the financial situation.
So what can be done to prepare for this? Perhaps the best thing you can do is talk openly with your parents about finances before it becomes a necessity. Review investments, assets, income, and expenses. Know where they keep important documents. If necessary, consider switching to joint accounts so that you have access when needed. Most importantly listen to your parents wishes. Listen to their vision of their long term care and work together to develop a plan that will financially allow for it.
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Sibling rivalry begins in childhood, but unfortunately it doesn’t always end there. Faced with the challenges of caring for an aging parent adult siblings often fall back into traditional family roles. The “responsible one” may automatically fall into the role of the primary caregiver. Maybe the “difficult one” won’t pitch in as much as the other siblings want him to or the “successful one” promptly puts a check in the mail. Ideally, the roles would all come together in a way that would compliment each other. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Being thrust into this situation can stir up old rivalries and emotions. This often causes conflict.
Conflict can also come about when siblings disagree about the type of care parents should receive. Sometimes siblings are fundamentally opposed to certain types of facilities. Other times the disagreement may be a result of differing perspectives on the level of care needed. For example, an out of town sibling may not realize how serious the situation is or how great the need is. Parents will often put on a good show when the out of town child comes to visit – leaving them with a skewed view of the parent’s condition. Meanwhile, the sibling serving as the primary caregiver gets a different perspective day in and day out. The financial aspect of the care can also lead to conflict. There may be widely different views on how to spend the parent’s money.
Depending on the level of conflict the best course of action may be to enlist the help of an objective third party either through a case manager, social worker, therapist, or mediator. One of the best things family members can do to prevent things from getting to that point is to sit down and have the hard conversations with parents ahead of time. Find out what their preferences are in terms of care. If that’s not possible then ideally siblings would be able to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses and come together to divide responsibilities and help bear the load. For example, out of town siblings may be able to pitch in financially, during their vacation time to offer respite to full-time caregivers, or by calling each day to offer emotional support (both to the parent and the caregiver). Siblings who live nearby may be able to divide assistance into areas such as food, laundry, cleaning, paying bills, transportation, medication, etc. This can help reduce the risk of caregiver burnout. Working together will ultimately work for the good of the parent and reduce the tension in the individual lives of the siblings involved.
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Being a caregiver is never an easy job. It can take its toll physically, emotionally, and financially. The process of watching a parent lose their independence is hard enough. That coupled with the fact that you probably have a number or other responsibilities – work, small children, a relationship to maintain – can easily result in significant stress. It can leave you feeling torn and exhausted.
It’s important to remember that in addition to caring for your parent you need to take care of yourself. Watch for signs of stress. Do you constantly feel exhausted? Have you experienced a significant amount of weight gain or loss recently? Does it seem impossible to get enough sleep or social interaction outside of your daily duties? Is your mind consumed with worry, anger, or guilt? Maybe you just feel incredibly sad and overwhelmed. These are all signs of caregiver stress and can ultimately lead to burnout. This can impact your overall physical and mental health. Some studies show that caregivers are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, long-term medical problems, weakened immunity, and obesity.
If you notice signs of caregiver stress it’s important to take action. Enlisting the help of others can work towards reducing your overall stress. Many find it helpful to delegate some responsibilities to others. Maybe there is someone else willing to do the grocery shopping or sit and visit with your parent while you take an evening off. Find a support group or caregiver resources in your area. Try to establish some respite care so that you can do something for yourself at least once a week. Recognize that you just can’t do it all and there’s no such thing as the “perfect caregiver.” Give yourself permission to take care of yourself – not just your parent!
- Pre-Marital Counseling