If you're faced with an elderly parent who is at the point of needing a consistent caregiver you're not alone. The Caregiver Action Network shares that nearly one-third of the U.S. population provides care for a family member.
Although most will gladly step into the role of caring for their parent at their time of need it's important to understand the personal and financial repercussions that are part of the job. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself and to discuss with your family before deciding to care for mom and dad:
1. Why do you want to become a caregiver?
If you feel like you HAVE to become your parent’s caregiver out of obligation or social pressure, there are some questions to address to make sure you would be able to truly help your parents. A caregiver does a lot of physically draining and emotionally taxing work that has the potential to cause strain in many relationships and harm the caregiver.
Ask yourself if you want to become a caregiver of your own volition or because of pressure from elsewhere. If it the former, then here is some more information about being a caregiver. »
If it is the latter, then make sure you sure be sure you have asked all parties involved before officially becoming your loved one’s care giver.
2. Do you have the financial ability?
The top of mind question for most about any option for elder care is, “What’s it going to cost?” According to U.S. News and World Report over one-third of experienced caregivers report spending a full 26 percent of their monthly budget on costs directly relate to the care of their parent. Caretakers may take out loans on their own assets to care for a parent and leave themselves in a poor financial situation. This is due to the staggering reality that the average caregiver’s household annual income is $55,000, according to the National Alliance of Caregiving.
If you do work full time, you will likely come across a time when you need to take time off to fulfill your outside responsibilities as the caretaker for your elderly loved one. If you eat up all of your paid time off, you may be forced into taking unpaid time off, digging you deeper into financial trouble.
Be wary of assuming that these common issues will not be a problem for you or your family. It is also wise to not falsely assume that you or your loved one cannot afford retirement community living. Get an idea of what it’s going to cost.
3. Do you have the time?
While it's simple to say you'll make whatever time is needed to provide for your parent the fact is 29 percent of U.S. caregivers spend an average of 20 hours per week in their caregiving role. If you have a family and a job this may be physically impossible to do for any extended period of time.
Will this affect your employment?
On a similar train of thought, you need to consider if becoming a caregiver for your aging parent is going to negatively affect your productivity and effectiveness at work. Seven out of ten caregivers have other employment, and a full two-thirds have had to go in late, leave early, or miss time due to caregiving issues. In addition, one out of five caregivers has taken a leave of absence due to caregiving.
What could the impact of these times away mean for you and your employment if you were to become a caretaker?
4. Are there others who will help bear the physical and financial burden?
If you have siblings or other family members who are willing to contribute to the care, you should hold a meeting and get specific commitments of both time and the financial burden. Make sure you plan for future costs too, as the cost of care is most likely going to rise in sync with your parents' age.
It is hard to determine a family balance and solution for dealing with aging parents. If there is resistance from your siblings, understand that it could stem from grief and emotional struggle with the reality your parent’s waning health. Be sensitive to that, but be persistent to keep them involved in the decision making process so that everyone in the family can work together to come to an agreeable solution.
5. Are you physically capable of the duties that are required?
Until being in the throes of daily caregiving, you may not think about the physical strain you would experience by being a caretaker. On a day to day basis, what all does a caregiver do? Typically informal caregiver duties include
Grooming and personal hygiene assistance
Toileting and incontinence care
Feeding and dietary care
And while you may be willing to take on the role of caring for your mom and dad, you may not be physically able to. If you do not have the physical capability to lift your parent if they were to fall or if you would struggle moving them from a chair or bed without assistance, you may need to look at alternative care as a solution.
6. Do you have a spouse and family, and if so how will they be affected?
It's hard to maintain a marriage and family as it is. It becomes increasingly harder when caring for your mom or dad is added to the daily routine. Be sure to include your spouse and family in any conversations about this major change in lifestyle and truly listen to their feedback.
One way to truly assess this situation is to make a list of when you would likely be caring for your elderly parent and organize it by day and time. Then make another list with the types of activities your spouse, kids, or grandkids regularly participate in at those times. The ask yourself how much time can you afford to miss of these life moments. More on How to Structure Your Day as A Caregiver »
7. How will becoming a caregiver affect your physical and emotional health?
Caregiving is hard work, both physically and mentally. It might not be an issue for short-term emergency situations but you must have the physical and mental stamina to continue years and possibly decades, and the burden will become greater as time goes on.
Make sure that you ask for help. 6 out of 10 caregiver’s say they would rate their health as poor or fair due to to the strain of being a caregiver. Be willing to ask others to help - because your health MATTERS.
And because we really mean it, I’ll say it again, ask for help. You don’t have to do it alone. You also don’t have to feel guilty for taking care of yourself when you are a caregiver. Here’s how »
8. Do you have a support network?
Okay, maybe one more time: you shouldn’t do this alone. You need a network of family and friends who are willing and able to step up to the plate if your parent needs round the clock care or if you yourself become incapacitated.
Your health will be impacted by becoming an informal caregiver. Did you know that caregivers who provide care for persons with dementia risk compromising their immune systems for up to 3 years after their caregiving experience ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves? (1)
And an additional 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. About a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. (2)
Having a support group can combat many of these emotional stresses and feelings of loneliness that lead to these symptoms of depression. Look for a caregiver support group in Washington State.
9. What might change in the future and how will it affect my role as caregiver?
As your elderly loved one’s health deteriorates, there are additional considerations to address. While you can't see the future you can foresee possibilities and plan for them. Consider the following:
Are there funds available to hire outside help if your parent becomes bedridden?
What if they show signs of Alzheimer's or dementia and require round-the-clock monitoring?
What will you do if your health requires more focus and attention?
Often these conditions are gradual rather than sudden, so the signs of looming issues can be easy to miss. You have to be able to step back in order to clearly see the point where you can no longer cope with the amount of caregiving required.
10. Are there any alternatives?
If you are at the point where you’re saying to yourself, “I can’t be a caregiver anymore,” then your next step is to look into alternative senior care options. When you are burned out and your parent is at the point where they need help on a weekly or daily basis it may be time to have a serious conversation with them about the future.
Gather the facts and research the costs before you talk about other alternatives such as assisted living. It's a good idea to include a financial planner, as they can do a cost breakdown and show both you and your parents the actual cost of care from a family member compared to a full-time companion or moving to an assisted living community.
These additional resources can help:
For more resources and decision making tools, check out the Caregiver's Guide complete with 7 Decision Evaluation Checklists.
(1) National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2009). Caregiving in the U.S.
(2) Zarit, S. (2006). Assessment of Family Caregivers: A Research Perspective.