Caregiving Tips for Boomers: 5 Tips for
Decreasing the Cost of Caring for Elderly Parents
By Vicki Rackner,
Over 30 million Baby Boomers provide
countless hours of assistance to elderly parents at no charge. It is
estimated that, using average hourly wages, the total amount of this
uncompensated care is comparable to the entire Medicare budget.
estimated 7 million Boomers who provide long distance care, actual out of
pocket expenses amount to almost $5,000 per month. For caregivers who have,
or are considering leaving the workforce to care for an ailing parent, the
costs are even greater – over $650,000 in forfeited salaries, benefits and
This stark economic
reality shows only one dimension of the price caregivers pay for this act of
Caregivers pay with losses that extend well beyond
their bank accounts. They often forego the activities that bring joy and
richness to their lives, like meeting friends for dinner, or going out to
the movies or taking family vacations. They pay with their time, the loss of
professional opportunities and the erosion of personal relationships that
result in isolation.
Sometimes, otherwise healthy loved ones need a short dose of care as they recover from an acute
medical episode like a broken leg. Usually loved ones are on a path of
steady decline with cascading assistance needs. Some caregivers sacrifice
large chunks of their own lives as they help their parents and other family
members and friends peacefully make their transitions. Caregivers can pay
with their own health and well-being. In fact, we have evidence that some
caregivers pay for their acts of care with their very lives.
You can decrease the personal and economic costs of
caregiving. This means proactive planning rather than reactive responding.
Planning saves money. You know this as you reflect upon your experiences of
going to the grocery store with and without a shopping list. Planning also
minimizes personal wear and tear and decreases stress. You will feel much
better when you know your options and develop back-up plans before you jump
into a challenging project.
5 Tips to Decrease the Cost of
1. Begin the conversation today. We have
tremendous cultural resistance to the recognition of aging, disability and
death. Just as the first few steps uphill are the hardest, so, too, you may
meet the greatest resistance simply starting the conversation about their
possible need for care. Say today, “Mom and Dad, it would be great if you
lived forever, but the discovery for the fountain of youth is nowhere on the
horizon. What thoughts and plans do you have about enjoying your golden
2. Create a plan.
Talk with your parents about their ideal plan if they are no longer able to
care for themselves. Then, start to work toward that proactively.
Investigate long-term care insurance. Draw up the appropriate legal
Find out who would make medical choices if they were not able to
make them on their own, along with some guiding principles for the choices.
You can anticipate and limit parental resistance by saying, “Mom and Dad, I
just got back from the lawyer’s office signing my will and durable medical
power of attorney. I’ve asked Mitch to make my medical choices if I cannot
make them myself. Just so you know, if I were in vegetative state, I
wouldn’t want to be maintained on a machine. You probably already planned
ahead too, right?”
3. Use personal and community resources. Make
caregiving a family job to which each member contributes. Even children can
make grandma’s life special with drawings and phone calls. Identify services
that make your job as a caregiver easier. If you and your parents live in
the same community, check with friends and neighbors and local organizations
to learn about services and resources that will make your job easier.
You say, “Mom has just moved in with us, and she wants to ‘find a card game
with the girls.’ Do you know of any senior centers that have social events?
How about transportation?”
We’re a mobile society
and millions of caregivers live more than an hour away from their parents.
Executive William Gillis learned from his own personal experience how
challenging it is to identify community resources from afar. As he was
carving the path that ultimately led his on-line portfolio management
service, he became the caregiver for his father. Talk about mixed emotions!
Professionally, he was introducing a service that let millions manage their
investments with one click of a computer mouse. Personally, he was investing
untold hours just to find one bit of information to help his dad.”
As with so many
innovators, he used his personal and professional experience to launch
Parent Care (www.parents-care.com),
a service that he wished would have made his life as a
cost-savings tips. This might
mean something as simple as ordering generic medication or regularly
inquiring about senior discounts. But, most cost savings opportunities
aren’t as obvious. Mr. Gillis found, for example, that some states will pay
for phones for hearing, visually or mobility limited seniors or fund home
safety improvements. He said, “We’ve invested heavily to locate time and
money saving resources that most would have difficulty finding. I made
it a personal mission to help other caregivers avoid some of the costs and
frustration I encountered.” You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Tap into
the resources others have collected.
4. Take care of
yourself. You will be able to provide the best care as a caregiver
when you’re at your best. Get good nutrition, enough sleep and regular
exercise. Manage your stress and do a little something every day to nurture
your soul. Understand that you are at increased risk for anxiety,
depression, and weakening your immune system. Talk to your doctor if you see
worrisome signs such as problems sleeping, changes in appetite or loss of
interest in activities you enjoy.
Despite the costs, most
caregivers say that they received much more than they gave. Most say they
would do it again, and many do.
Sometimes the question
is not the personal cost of caregiving; it’s the value that you bring to the
lives of others that matter at the end. What personal cost are you willing
to pay for the privilege of helping those who welcomed you into the world to
enjoy their golden years and travel the road of illness with love and
About the Author:
Dr. Vicki is a board-certified surgeon and Clinical Instructor at the
University of Washington School of Medicine who left the operating room to
help caregivers and patients take the most direct path from illness to
Want more tips about caregiving? Get your free report
“Caring for the Caregiver” by emailing Dr. Vicki Rackner today at DrVicki @
DrVicki.org and be sure to check out her regular column with the Johnson &
Johnson Consumer Products Group’s new caregiver Website