The Unexpected Costs of Caregiving

The rising cost of health care in this country has been a growing concern for decades. With Americans living longer, the need for long-term care is also becoming more predominate. Most people, however, look at long-term care as a last resort due to the expense and emotional reasoning. Therefore, when the time does come that a loved one needs care, family members usually take on the role themselves instead of seeking professional services.

A 2011 report from Indiana University, stated that nearly 10 million Americans were caring for older parents; the value of the unpaid care is an estimated $375 billion per year. At first glance, it would seem that these personal providers would be saving money for their loved ones and themselves. However, MetLife studies estimate that the total loss of wages, pensions and social security benefits of workers who provide full-time care is $3 trillion or an average of $304,000 per caregiver over a lifetime. This does not even take into account the out-of-pocket expenses that the caregivers pay.   Unfortunately, the “expenses” go beyond financial; Physical and emotional stress can easily chip away at a caregiver’s health as well as undermine their relationships with other family members and friends.

The physical and emotional toll of caring for a loved one seldom gets consideration when a family member takes on the role. Countless studies and polls show that many caregivers do not have the time or energy to take care of themselves. To make it worse, most have lost insurance benefits because they gave up their jobs to care for their loved one. Caregivers find themselves being forced to use up savings accounts and retirement funds to cover these costs. The lack of funds can prevent caregivers from seeking health care themselves.  Eventually, they can no longer care for themselves, let alone another.  Thus, the cycle continues.

If you feel you must, there are many factors to consider before taking on the role of a personal caregiver. If you have access to a financial planner, it will be wise to seek their advice in crunching the numbers to determine if it truly will save money for you/the family. If you are considering the role strictly on an emotional level, talk with other caregivers to get a realistic viewpoint and experience. Though the heart might be in the right place, you may not be able to provide what’s best for them and/or yourself in the long run.