Most of us never expect to become caregivers. It usually isn't something that anyone researches and prices out until it happens to them. But even when all of the upfront dollar amounts of adapting a bathroom, putting in a wheelchair ramp or paying co-pays out-of-pocket are added up, there are other not-so-obvious costs that can creep in. To help you adjust to your caregiver role, here are a few other problems to be prepared for.
The Problem: Sleep Deprivation
If your loved one requires round-the-clock care, you may end up on night duty. Or, you may lose sleep from being attentive, because there’s the chance your loved one may wake up in the night and either needs assistance with the bathroom, or you are just listening to make sure they get back to bed OK. On top of the physical causes of sleep deprivation, caregiving is stressful and may keep you awake wondering about dilemmas like which treatments are best, whether you are doing the right thing in terms of caring for them, and how your family will afford the care your loved one needs. About 69 percent of family caregivers said that caring for a loved one was the No. 1 source of stress in their lives, according to Caring.com’s online survey about the costs of caregiving. While the main problem here is that you are more tired throughout the day, which causes discomfort, the bigger problem is that when you are deprived of sleep, you are more likely to make poor judgments or suffer an accident, and long-term sleep deprivation has grave effects on overall health. Because both of my daughters have sleep issues, this has been a big issue for my family.
What can be done: Talk to your own health care provider about your sleep situation. If appropriate, have a sleep study done for your loved one or yourself to diagnose problems and seek treatment. If the stress is getting to you, consider talking with a therapist or specialist who can help you plan your caregiving better. Also, talk to another family member about trading off on different nights so you are getting a full night’s sleep at least some of the time.
The Problem: Monetary Loss
Due to the high cost of nursing homes and residential facilities, and the desire to care for loved ones themselves, many families choose to care for loved ones at home. However, reducing work hours or giving up work entirely to care for loved ones personally means sacrificing income. According to The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, the average cost impact of caregiving on lost wages and Social Security benefits for women is $274,044. That isn’t the only way full-time caregivers lose money, though. You must also factor in expenses for your loved one. An Evercare online survey from 2007 found that more than 42 percent of caregivers spent more than $5,000 a year on caregiving expenses.
What can be done: Talk to your boss about family-friendly flextime policies and part-time, work-from-home options to allow you to keep your job. Also be sure to check on all available funding sources to help with caregiving expenses in your state and local area. If your loved one has a diagnosed disability, many medical and therapy expenses can be covered through your state’s Medicaid-funded insurance program.
The Problem: Vacation and Sick Day Use
If you use all of your vacation days and sick days to care for your loved ones, that also means that you are not getting the restorative benefit of an actual vacation or the day off needed when you yourself are ill. Not only are you neglecting yourself, you may end up spreading illness by going in to work when you are sick because you have no sick days left.
What can be done: Consider job options that will allow you to work from home and give you a more flexible schedule while maintaining at least some job skills. One option is virtual employment with companies like HireMyMom.com, Zirtual.com and ELance.com. Or, you may even consider freelancing or starting your own business. Working from home can also help to fill what would otherwise be a gaping hole in your resume, and possibly your wallet as well.
The Problem: Declining Personal Health
Compared to non-caregivers, men and women who are caregivers are more likely to report poor or fair health, according to the MetLife study. More specifically, only 11 percent of non-caregiving female participants reported poor or fair health, while 14 percent of caregiving women reported poor or fair health. For male respondents, it was 14 percent vs. 17 percent, respectively.
What can be done: Carve out time for yourself, your own appointments and your own self-care. Take as many preventive measures as possible, get all your shots and keep up with daily health habits to avoid sickness. Enlist family members to help or hire help if you need to and can afford it. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes can sometimes help with stress reduction as well.
The Problem: Reduced Employability
As many mothers who off-ramp while caring for an infant can confirm, when you spend a few years away from the workforce, the skills, know-how and connections you once had may be sorely out-of-date when you get back.
What can be done: Use your time at home to further your education or add to your skills via online courses when you have time. Stay in touch with friends, coworkers and clients from before if you plan on trying to re-enter the same field. Or use what time you have to focus on a career change towards something you can do with the amount of flexibility your current lifestyle requires.
For many people, caring for an aging or disabled loved one within the comfort of your own home is the best option for many reasons. Keeping a close family unit, being on-site to oversee care and make important decisions, and having some say in who has access to your loved one are all important reasons. As the baby boomer generation ages and the rates of developmental disabilities among children rise, we as a culture all need to take a look at ways to mitigate both the financial costs and the hidden costs of caregiving on families.
Jennifer Turrell is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.