• Hidden Costs of Caregiving

  • by Austin Quinn

As baby boomers continue to reach retirement age, more and more seniors now require at-home assisted living care. Traditional retirement homes and institutional living facilities cost thousands of dollars per year, which may not be an option for those living on smaller retirement savings. But, for many Americans choosing to take care of their parents and grandparents on their own, caregiving may take a far greater toll than many imagine. If you’re considering extended caregiving for a relative, consider all of the unseen costs explained below.

Professional Problems

Many working adults who care for their loved ones notice a significant effect on their careers. One national study noted that one third of caregivers decreased work hours, nearly thirty percent gave up a promotion, a one- quarter took leave from work, one fifth switched to part-time work, and one sixth quit their jobs entirely. These statistics indicate the sheer time investments required of caregivers. It’s immense, and it will only continue to grow as the population ages.

Furthermore, many caregivers tend to underestimate the amount of time and effort that they’ll spend caring for an elder. It’s easy to assume that you might only spend a few hours a week when in reality you may spend a couple hours a day. For loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other progressive ailments, you may find yourself tending to your parent’s or grandparent’s needs on a full time basis. To make things even more difficult, most caregivers return to the workforce only to face stiff competition for limited jobs. Many end up with a lower wage than expected.

Future Retirement

All of the above issues affecting a working-age caregiver may also impact that person’s retirement savings and future financial security. Given that many caregivers have already lost potential revenue by working fewer hours or leaving the workforce, they’ve effectively lost a portion of what would have been their future savings. Furthermore, because leaving the workforce will damage future Social Security benefits, the costs of caregiving extend much further in the future than one might expect.

Personal Health

You may not expect much physical difficulty when assisting a senior. Perhaps you’re simply preparing meals, driving your loved one to a doctor’s appointment, or filling prescriptions. But, the simple day-to-day tasks of caregiving often fail to represent the immense emotional burden of supporting a family member through a difficult time.

Mental health matters. Especially for caregivers. After researchers from the University of Toronto followed caregivers of ill family members, they discovered that over half of those dutiful caregivers suffered from depression. The stress and anxiety that accompanies financial insecurity often afflicts caregivers who must give up work and other responsibilities due to time-demanding care. Furthermore, such time demands often interrupt standard schedules. Imagine waking up every three hours to help your relative avoid bed sores or to administer medication. With such disrupted sleeping schedules, both mental and physical health can deteriorate.

Society at Large

These costs impact caregivers at a personal level, but the consequences also affect our national economy. American business loses approximately $34 billion dollars every year as employees care for aging seniors. With senior advocacy groups now pushing for legislation, perhaps the near future will reveal new methods of helping caregivers manage these costs. Providing tax credits and Social Security compensation for caregivers will help, but such efforts depend upon national political consensus. As more and more workplaces begin to accommodate parents who must work flexible hours for their children, so too will companies acknowledge the necessities of assisting elderly parents and grandparents.