6. Know your financial limits.
Nearly 10 million Americans over 50 care for parents full- or part-time, but many don’t realize what it’s costing them. According to Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents, a recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the MetLife Mature Market Institute, caregivers actually sacrifice nearly $3 trillion in total wages, pension funds and Social Security benefits. Each woman who leaves the workforce or scales back her career to care for a parent forfeits more than $324,000 in wages and Social Security benefits.
Most caregivers are thrust into the role during a crisis and have little time to consider the effect on their current and future finances, Hunt says. “In desperation, a caregiver will sometimes just quit her job,” she notes, without considering the hit to her income.
If you think that caregiving may be in your future, start evaluating how you can finance it by considering the effect on your savings and your career if you’ll need to take time out from working.
7. Look for ways to cut your caregiving costs.
One way to do it: see if Uncle Sam will help. If you support one or both of your parents financially, you may be able to claim them as dependents on your tax return (for 2013, each exemption reduces your taxable income by $3,900.) You may also be eligible to claim the Dependent Care Tax Credit, allowing you to write off a percentage of what you spent on day care services for your parent (as much as 35% of your expenses, up to $3,000).
Bob Bua, president of the CareScout business which helps Americans make eldercare decisions, has a few other suggestions that could save you thousands of dollars. One of them: Negotiate the cost of hiring a caregiver; you may be able to work out a lower rate than the one you’re quoted. Another: Don’t overpay for a home health caregiver. When you’re interviewing a potential aide, says Bua, ask if the particular type of medical help you want qualifies for a lower hourly rate.
8. Let technology be your friend.
Tracking and monitoring devices, such as Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and Mobile PERS generally feature GPS-tracking devices so you can locate your loved ones at any time to be sure they’re safe.
Jitterbug, known for its elderly-friendly simplified phone with oversized buttons and large type now offers the 5Star Urgent Response Service. That feature delivers immediate, 24/7 emergency assistance whenever your parent (or someone with the phone) pushes a button.
9. Find a transportation service, so your parents won’t have to drive.
Many older adults equate surrendering their car keys to losing their independence. It can also lead to isolation. If you think your parents are unsafe to drive, look for someone or some business locally who can get them where they need to go — to doctor’s appointments, to the store or just out of their home for a bit.
Three possible alternatives: Curb-to-curb rides, which are like taxi services but whose drivers don’t help passengers get in the cars; door-to-door drivers who provide more assistance, but generally don’t help with wheelchairs due to liability concerns and door-through-door providers whose drivers offer more help, including carrying groceries.
10. Finally, make time to laugh.
If you’re not careful, being a caregiver can increase your stress and make you depressed, exhausted and anxious. So heed the credible research recognizing the impact of humor therapy and look for opportunities to bring laughter into your life.
It could be good for your health as well as your sanity. According to Next Avenue writer Sherri Snelling, who is also founder and chief executive of the Caregiving Club, psychoimmunologist Lee Berk of the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California found that laughter increased the production and activation of antibodies and “killer” cells that attack virus and tumors.
In the Next Avenue article, “Why Laughter is Crucial for Caregivers,” registered nurse and “neuro-humorist” Karyn Buxman recommends subscribing to an email or online “joke of the day” to start mornings with a laugh. It couldn’t hurt.
Gary Drevitch is senior Web editor for Next Avenue’s Caregiving and Health & Well-Being channels. Follow Gary on Twitter @GaryDrevitch.