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Making the decision to be an elderly caregiver is not to be taken lightly. Caring for an aging parent or an elderly loved one is a full-time commitment that bears an enormous responsibility. As more and more baby boomers ease their way into retirement, more men and women are rolling up their sleeves and choosing to help their parents at home, instead of putting them in a nursing home. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. Those numbers have been steadily increasing year after year. Every situation is different, but every adult should have a firm understanding of what it means to be an elderly caregiver and the toll it can take on a person’s finances and their mental and physical health.
Create a Caregiving Budget
For many families, deciding how to care for an elderly loved one comes down to cost. U.S. News reports that putting an elderly person in a nursing home costs an average of $248 a day for a private room and $222 for a semi-private room. The average stay in a nursing home is around 835 days, adding up to more than $90,000 a year. These costs can be crippling for some families, which is why so many adults choose to stay at home and provide care themselves. More importantly, Medicare typically will not cover the cost of a nursing home.
Every family should sit down and calculate the total cost of caring for their elderly loved one, including insurance coverage, prescription costs, medical expenses, caregiving equipment for getting around the home and preventing trips and falls, and other living expenses. If the family decides to skip the nursing home and care for the elderly person at home, that might mean someone has to leave their job to provide full-time care. They’ll need to think about how these everyday expenses and their change in income will affect the family’s finances.
Be Realistic About Your Time Commitment
When choosing how to care for an elderly loved one, the family should consult the person’s doctor for more information on the level of care required. Does the caregiver have the experience to properly care for their aging parent? If not, that might mean paying for an outpatient or live-in nurse to help with medical treatment. If the caregiver plans on keeping their job, they’ll need someone to stay at the house while they’re at work. If several people agree to share the caregiving responsibilities, everyone will need to commit to a regular schedule.
It’s important to be realistic about how much time is needed to care for an elderly person. According to U.S. News, family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours a week caring for an elderly loved one, with 25% of caregivers spending 41 hours or more a week providing care. However, caring for an elderly loved one is not just a weekly commitment; it can stretch on for years. U.S. News also reports that the average caregiver spends 4 years caring for their elderly loved one, with just 30% of caregivers providing care for less than one year. With this type of time commitment in mind, caregivers need to think about their own future, including their retirement savings plan, how long they plan on working or staying out of the job market, and the chances of getting another job potentially years down the road.
Navigating Your New Relationship with Your Aging Parents
Being a caregiver is not just about doctor’s visits and changing the sheets; it’s also about dealing with stress and making important family decisions. Caregivers might still be used to being the child in the family, but now they’ll discover that their role has been reversed. As the parent becomes frailer, the caregiver will need to take a more assertive role at home. That means keeping track of expenses and finances, navigating the insurance market, dealing with life or death medical decisions, and being the executor of their parent’s will. Anyone that’s considering taking on this role should consider these additional requirements.
Caregivers should sit down with their elderly loved one and talk about how things will change around the house. The caregiver needs to set clear boundaries around the home, reinforcing their new role as the head of the household. If the caregiver is moving back in with their parents, they’ll need to consider how these changes will affect their personal life, including setting aside time for themselves, having a social life, and pursuing their own life goals. Both the parent and the caregiver should express their concerns and needs going forward.
Reaching Out to Friends and Family for Support
Every person considering becoming a caregiver should have a line of support in their community before making a final decision. Are there friends, neighbors, or family members nearby that can help out from time to time? This might include driving the elderly person to a doctor’s appointment or helping with groceries and chores around the house. If the caregiver is still employed or has children of their own, chances are that they will need some assistance. Caregivers need to be realistic about how much they ask of those willing to help. If a person has a reputation of bailing at the last minute, they shouldn’t be relied upon for support. If the caregiver has a sibling that lives 100 miles away, they shouldn’t rely on them for assistance.
Make no mistake, being a caregiver often amounts to a full-time job. Caregivers need to think carefully about how their new role will affect their personal life in the years to come. However, despite these personal preferences, figuring out how to care for aging parents or an elderly loved one is usually dependent on cost. Every family needs to examine their finances and find a solution that works for them.
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