When a parent or aging relative begins to need help with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, and eating, you may decide to take on becoming a personal caregiver. At first, it may seem natural, convenient, and logical to care for a parent on your own. But family caregiving can become overwhelming quickly, both emotionally and financially.
Family caregivers spend about 20% of their income on caregiver costs, according to a 2020 report by AARP. Before you choose to be a caregiver for a family member, it’s important to understand the financial realities of caring for a parent — especially the unexpected costs. Learn more about surprising caregiving costs, plus ways to reduce expenses.
Family caregiving often begins with a sense of duty and love. Your commitment to your elderly parent or relative is admirable and shouldn’t be minimized, but remembering to value your own needs is essential.
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
“Family caregivers sacrifice their own lives for a loved one,” says Donna Talerico, a Senior Living Advisor with A Place for Mom who cared for her elderly mother. “Some postpone medical appointments and procedures for themselves, and some stop going out because they either can’t leave or their loved one is fearful they may not come back. They stay put to reduce risk.”
Here are five hidden costs of caregiving for a parent or relative that may help you prepare for your new role and find a healthy balance.
Family caregivers frequently have to leave their jobs, reduce work hours, or retire early. About 70% of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties due to their dual roles, according to The Family Caregiver Alliance. Sandwich generation caregivers — those who take care of elderly parents at home while raising children — often experience even more difficulty balancing a career with family caregiving responsibilities.
“Personal caregivers who leave work or lose a job or career to care for a loved one may find it hard to reenter the workforce when they can again,” Talerico says. As more baby boomers age into retirement, the demands of caregiving placed on their children increase, leading to higher rates of unemployment and underemployment for family caregivers.
Some work-related consequences of caregiving include:
Family caregivers often experience increased physical and emotional strains as a result of caregiving, according to the AARP report. Many people acting as caregivers for a parent or relative say they feel alone, and about 40% report caregiving is highly stressful.
These unforeseen negative health effects of caregiving are damaging and costly. Stress and depression can lead to long-term mental health concerns, while the physical demands of family caregiving can raise blood pressure and subsequently increase the risk of chronic conditions.
Those who act as caregivers for family members with dementia report even higher levels of strain, mental and physical health problems, and caregiver burnout, according to a study of 1,500 family caregivers published in The Gerontologist. Dementia caregiver health risks include increased mortality, elevated rates of chronic illnesses, and severe isolation.
Increased health care costs that may result from the stress of family caregiving can lead to financial strain. For those who’ve lost their health insurance or put their career on hold, these new medical expenses are particularly hard to bear.
A family caregiver may incur out-of-pocket expenses that add up quickly. Extra expenses can include:
Extra costs may cause caregivers to dip into savings. Twenty-two percent of caregivers report using all their short-term savings, while twelve percent say they went through all their long-term savings while taking care of elderly parents at home, according to the AARP report.
Some effects of these increased costs for personal caregivers include:
Naturally, caregivers who’ve stopped working altogether have an even harder time maintaining their savings and retirement funds. Leaving the workforce can also reduce social security and pension benefits.
Senior home safety and accessibility are major concerns when taking care of elderly parents at home. While these home improvement projects may be expensive, preventing injuries and reducing fall risks could save thousands of dollars in medical costs.
Home modifications may include:
Some costs of caregiving go beyond financial impact. Like personal health, relationships can suffer from the strain of caring for an elderly parent at home. As family caregivers devote more of their time and energy to caring for their elderly loved one, they may begin to feel frustrated — especially if they experience any of the unexpected costs described above.
“Some caregivers have feelings of anger, resentment, and then guilt in having those feelings toward the very loved one they care for,” Talerico says. “They may have similar feelings toward siblings not pitching in but giving lots of directives from afar.”
These feelings not only have a personal impact, they can also lead to expenses such as therapy sessions or hiring a mediator to resolve family disputes.
While these lesser-known expenses may make family caregiving seem daunting, helping a loved one in their time of need can be tremendously rewarding. About half of family caregivers say they feel a new sense of purpose and meaning, according to the AARP study.
“A cost can be a good thing too,” Talerico says. “It’s what you sacrificed to help someone you love, and it’s doing the best you can with what you have and not having regrets.”
Extra time spent with an aging loved one is invaluable. The bonding opportunity created by family caregiving — both for children and grandchildren — is a priceless benefit of taking care of elderly parents at home.
With the right tools, you can minimize caregiving costs. Consider these three ways to reduce the cost of caregiving while best supporting your elderly loved one.
AARP. “Caregiving in the US 2020 Report.”
The Gerontologist. “Prevalence and Impact of Caregiving.”
Family Caregiver Alliance. “Caregiver Statistics: Work and Caregiving.”