While being a caregiver to an aging adult can be a rewarding and loving act, it often means putting your loved one first — physically, financially and emotionally. It can mean giving up hours of sleep, cherished hobbies, much-needed time alone and vacations.
Feeling overwhelmed as a caregiver is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you don’t care enough about your loved one. The truth is, the cost of caring for a loved one at home can be staggering.
On average, caregivers spend 24.4 hours a week providing care to their loved one, with nearly one-quarter dedicating 41 or more hours of care a week, says this Caregiving in the US 2015 Report. It isn’t always a short-term job, either. The typical caregiver provides care for an average of five years and expects to continue for another five years.
The Emotional Toll
The responsibility that comes with looking after a loved one can have a profound effect on caregivers’ mental wellbeing. It often means sacrificing important self-care routines and activities. In fact, the number of positive activities caregivers engage in is reduced by 27.2 percent as a result of their responsibilities, according to the 2010 Estimating the Impact of Caregiving and Employment on Well-Being report.
In addition to sacrificing time for self-care and leisure, it can be emotionally stressful to watch an aging relative’s health decline, and may also lead to stressful family conflicts over caretaking and legal matters. With all of these stress factors, it’s no surprise that, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 40 percent of caregivers suffer from depression.
The Physical Cost
The unique stressors that come with taking care of a relative can also take a toll on caregivers’ physical health. Those who provide unpaid care (of any type) for 21 hours or more each week are particularly vulnerable to emotional stress and physical strain. Caregivers spend about $800 more per year on healthcare than non-caregivers, according to Brent Fulton, a coauthor of the Shriver Report. The Family Caregiver Alliance has gathered additional sobering statistics on this issue.
The increased risk for health issues in caregivers may be linked to a decline in basic self-care. One study found that caretakers were less likely to eat a nutritious diet and more likely to neglect their own healthcare appointments.
Many caregivers are shocked at the stunning cost of caring for someone living with dementia. On average, caregivers lose more than $15,000 in annual income, points out the Alzheimer's Association, whose survey found many had to cut back on their own family’s food and medical care because of insufficient income. The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Takes on Alzheimer's found that the average cost of care for someone living with Alzheimer's is $56,800 per year. Of that cost, 60 percent — $34,500 per year — is covered by the family themselves. Although the bulk of that is in uncompensated care provided by a loved one, families sometimes pay out of pocket for expenses as well.
As with many aspects of dementia, it is vital for those diagnosed with the disease to talk to their families about their wishes. Talk about formal care options, like long-term care or assisted living, discuss home health or ask about dividing caregiving responsibilities between family members. Once you understand your loved one’s goals, you can make financial plans accordingly.
While caregiving is a loving duty, it is also a long-term commitment that comes with intense responsibility. If caregiving is affecting your emotional or physical wellbeing, don’t be ashamed to seek help. Considering other options such as in-home help or a senior living community may be the best decision for both you and your loved one.