Caregiving For An Aging Loved One Isn’t All Doom And Gloom. The Rewards Of
Caregiving Are Real, But So Are The Hidden Costs.
BY Jullie Gray, MSW, LICSW, CMC – Aging Life Care Association™ Member and Fellow of the Leadership Academy
Six Hidden Costs to Caring for an Aging Parent
Adult children across the country belong to the sandwich generation. Like salami and the cheese, they feel squished between the responsibilities of their careers, elder care and raising their kids. Often, family caregivers sacrifice their own well-being and financial security to help their parents grow old gracefully.
The situation isn’t easing anytime soon. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about trends, estimates that ten thousand people are now turning 65 every day. This so-called “silver tsunami” will continue for the next three decades. At the same time, the Center on an Aging Society at Georgetown University reports that boomers age 65 and older are expected to increase at a 2.3% rate while the number of family members available to care for them will increase at less than 1%. The pressure on families now and in the future, particularly women, is immense.
Caregiving for an aging loved one isn’t all doom and gloom. The rewards of caregiving are real but so are the hidden costs.
On the plus side, adult children see their role as “giving back” to someone special. The payoff is not monetary, but it is an opportunity to care for a person who has been an important figure in their life – a mom who raised them alone or a dad who never let them down. Finding purpose and meaning through this labor of love makes all the work worth the time and effort. But being a family caregiver is hard work. It demands a lot of time, patience, and persistence. Those who start with realistic expectations reach out for help and plan ahead. They fare much better through the ups and downs than those who don’t. The hidden costs of caring for a family member should be considered and planned for carefully.
What are the Six Hidden Costs?
1. Dead-end career
The demands of taking care of a parent can impact productivity and increase absenteeism for the caregiver. Losing focus at work and taking time off to run Mom to medical appointments, manage home care schedules and address the inevitable crises that appear out of the blue seriously impacts opportunities for advancement. It’s hard to shine at work when you are constantly leaving early, texting a homecare aide about daily routines or negotiating with your siblings about who is responsible for what.
2. Financial safety net vanishes
A 2011 study by Met Life estimated that men who reduced work hours to provide care for parents lost almost $127,000 in wages and earned $38,000 less in Social Security lifetime benefits. If they stopped working altogether, men gave up about $284,000 in wages, pension, and Social Security benefits over their lifetime. Women, on the other hand, fare even worse financially and are more at risk for poverty as a result of their efforts. Women typically need to cut back at work or stop working altogether. The Met Life study estimated that women who reduce their hours lose more than $121, 000 in lifetime wages and earn $64,000 less in Social Security benefits over their lifetime. Leaving the workforce to care for a parent hits a woman’s pocketbook even harder than a man’s. A whopping shortfall of $324,000 includes wages, pension and social security benefits over her lifetime.
3. The world gets smaller
As adult children become laser focused on the needs of frail parents, it stands to reason that their social support network shrinks. Ironically, this is when friendships matter most. It may be all a daughter can do to get home in time to throw together a quick microwaved meal, pay the bills so the lights stay on and help her kids get their homework done. For now, she reasons, friendships must take a back seat. Forget about the family summer cabin frequented each year, the annual girls’ weekend away or a short ski trip. A common caregiver refrain is, “there just isn’t enough time to take a break.”
4. Stress overload
It’s a domino effect. The more time family caregivers spend putting the needs of others first, the more their resilience slips away. It doesn’t help that most stumble into their role with little preparation, knowledge or support about how to manage all of the complex issues. This can set up well-meaning family members to feel like failures. Many quickly experience frustration, feel drained, guilty, helpless or completely burned out. Ayala Pines, a researcher on the subject of burnout, defines it at “a state where highly committed individuals lose their spirit.” We’re not talking about just a little stress here—burnout occurs when caregiving no longer feels meaningful because of the emotional overload and numbing exhaustion!
5. Illness strikes
Failing to take time off to recharge and refocus triggers a deep stress reaction. Physical health begins to suffer. Many caregivers neglect their annual screening exams and simply ignore their own medical problems allowing them to fester for far too long. The Family Caregiver Alliance warns that chronic conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis occur at nearly twice the rate compared to non-caregivers. Studies show that caregivers are also at higher risk for premature death – as much as 63% higher if they are experiencing “caregiver strain.”
6. Emotional well-being suffers
Melancholy can set in and overwhelm even those who, under normal circumstances, project a sunny attitude. Sadness, loneliness, and anger are common feelings everyone experiences now and then. But it’s a problem when these negative feelings persist relentlessly day after day. Tending to someone with heavy care needs or a parent suffering from dementia tests even the most patient person. Those who perceive they are all alone on their caregiving journey are at highest risk for experiencing full-blown depression and anxiety.
Help Is Just a Phone Call Away
Marshaling help is possible and necessary. Ideally, families should meet with an expert to plan ahead before starting down the caregiving path. An assessment of needs, available resources and creating an action plan to address challenges can help family members assume control of the situation. But if this step is missed, it’s never too late. When exhaustion takes a foothold, a consultation with an expert should be the first order of business.
What are the options for help?
Aging Life Care™ managers offer a holistic perspective and can forge a positive path forward. For some families, meeting one or two times with an Aging Life Care™ manager is enough to get things moving back on track. If desired, they can also coordinate day to day tasks, allowing adult daughters and sons to focus on their careers and the responsibilities of parenting their own children. Skillful problem solvers, these professionals take charge of those inevitable crises just as easily as routine needs. To find one, go to aginglifecare.org and search for an expert in your area. Other options include reaching out to a social worker at the Alzheimer’s Association, a Senior Center or your local Area Agency on Aging.
Jullie Gray has over 30 years of experience
in healthcare and aging. She is
a Principal at Aging Wisdom in Seattle,
WA. Jullie is the President of the National
Academy of Certified Care Managers
and the Past President of the Aging Life
Care Association. Follow her on LinkedIn
and Twitter @JullieGray, or email her at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Aging Wisdom
has a presence on Facebook – we invite
you to like our page.
Thank you to the Aging Life Care Association
™ for permission to share this
information. You may learn more about
Aging Life Care™ at aginglifecare.org.
Aging Life Care / geriatric care management is a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults or others facing ongoing health challenges.
What is an Aging Life Care Professional?
An Aging Life Care Professional™, also known as a geriatric care manager, is a health and human services specialist who acts as a guide and advocate for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. The Aging Life Care Professional is educated and experienced in any of several fields related to aging life care / care management, including, but not limited to gerontology, nursing, social work, psychology or occupational therapy. The Aging Life Care Professional assists clients in attaining their maximum functional potential. The individual’s independence is encouraged, while safety and security concerns are also addressed. Aging Life Care Professionals have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality and availability of resources in their communities. Aging Life Care Professionals are members of the Aging Life Care Association™ (ALCA) and differ from Patient Advocates, Senior Advisors, Senior Navigators and Elder Advocates. ALCA members must meet the stringent education, experience and certification requirements of the organization, and all members are required to adhere to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice.
What Services do Aging Life Care Professionals Provide?
Aging Life Care Professionals provide guidance to help families ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love through:
• Assessment and monitoring
• Planning and problem-solving
• Education and advocacy
• Family caregiver coaching
• Long-distance caregiving Aging Life Care Professionals are engaged to assist in a variety of areas, such as:
• Housing – helping families evaluate and select the appropriate level of housing or residential options.
• Home care services – determining the types of services that are right for a client and assisting the family to engage and
monitor those services.
• Medical management – attending doctor appointments, facilitating communication between doctor, client and family,
and if appropriate, monitoring client’s adherence to medical orders and instructions.
• Communication – keeping family members and professionals informed as to the well-being and changing needs of the
• Social activities – providing opportunities for the client to engage in social, recreational or cultural activities that enrich
quality of life.
• Legal – referring to or consulting with an elder law attorney; providing expert opinions for courts in determining level of
• Financial – may include reviewing or overseeing bill paying or consulting with accountant or client’s Power of Attorney.
• Entitlements – providing information on Federal and state entitlements; connecting families to local programs.
• Safety and security – monitoring the client at home; recommending technologies to add to security or safety; observing
changes and potential risks of exploitation or abuse.
• Long-distance care – coordinating the care of a loved one for families that live at a distance, including crisis management. Local, cost-effective resources are identified and engaged as needed. A care plan tailored for each individual’s circumstances is prepared after a comprehensive assessment.
How do you know that you need an Aging Life Care Professional?
You may need an Aging Life Care Professional if:
• The person you are caring for has limited or no family support.
• Your family has just become involved with helping the individual and needs direction about available services.
• The person you are caring for has multiple medical or psychological issues.
• The person you are caring for is unable to live safely in his/her current environment.
• Your family is either “burned out” or confused about care solutions.
• Your family has limited time and/ or expertise in dealing with your loved ones’ chronic care needs.
• Your family is at odds regarding care decisions.
• The person you are caring for is not pleased with current care providers and requires advocacy.
• The person you are caring for is confused about his/her own financial and/or legal situation.
• Your family needs education and/or direction in dealing with behaviors associated with dementia.
• You live at a distance from your loved one.
Thank you to the Aging Life Care Association™ for permission to share this information. You may learn more about
Aging Life Care™ at aginglifecare.org.
We are pleased to announce that Susy Elder Murphy, BA, CMC, has been elected President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Aging Life Care™ Association, or ALCA (formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, NAPGCM).
NAPGCM underwent a major rebranding which started in 2014 and the new name was introduced in April 2015 at the association's national conference. There was a strong need to brand the profession and increase care managers' visibility in the changing world of aging. The terminology for our profession has now changed for the most part from "Geriatric Care Managers" to "Aging Life Care Managers or Professionals" for those who are members of the association.
Susy is very excited to serve as President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of ALCA and promote the important work of the 250 regional members. She is eager to use her extensive knowledge and resources to help grow the Mid-Atlantic Chapter and educate our referral sources and client and families about the unique value of Aging Life Care Managers. She plans to create a strong and unified voice with the help of her team of 11 social workers, nurses, and gerontologists who are all ALCA members. Susy and her team are committed to offering seniors and their families the best in caring, individualized and effective support as they face the challenges of aging.