Liz Weston: What it would cost you to care for an aging parent


Trying to work while caring for an aging loved one can be difficult, stressful and sometimes overwhelming. Many people feel they need to quit, take time off, or at least cut their hours to cope.

Sometimes caregivers have little choice. But often people don’t realize the heavy financial toll they’ll be paying or don’t research enough options that could allow them to continue working, says Amy Goyer, national family and care expert at AARP.

“When you’re in a caregiving crisis, you can make a decision because of stress, fatigue, and fear,” says Goyer. “It’s important to make business and financial decisions from a more objective perspective.”

Calculate costs

A 2020 AARP study found that 61% of adult caregivers were employed, and the majority experienced at least some work-related impact. Most often this meant being late for work, having to leave early or taking time off, but carers also said they had to take unpaid leave or reduce their hours. One in 10 carers who were working quit or took early retirement.

Those who quit work not only lose their current income. They also lose future raises, pension contributions and company games. Their future Social Security checks could be smaller, and many find they can’t earn as much when they return to work because their skills are outdated. A few years out of the workforce—the AARP study found the average caregiving period was 4.5 years—can set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement. Fidelity Investments has a “cost of leaving the labor market” calculator that can help you gauge the potential impact. Fidelity is a NerdWallet partner.

Study the alternatives

Caregivers are less likely to quit if they receive certain benefits at work, including paid sick days or unpaid family leave, according to the AARP study. Among the most useful benefits for caregivers are flexible hours, the ability to work from home and paid family leave, says Cecilia Shiner, research director for the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, an insurance industry research group.

Under federal law, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a child, spouse or relative (but not a brother-in-law or other relative). Eligible employees can keep their health insurance and return to the same job or an equivalent job. Those caring for a veteran could be eligible for up to 26 weeks. You must have worked for the employer at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave, and the organization must employ at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius of your place of employment, among other requirements. You may also be able to split your time off, allowing you to take one or two days a week, for example, says Goyer, author of “Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving.”

Before you quit, you should ask what accommodations your employer is willing to offer, says Goyer. The simple ability to make personal calls at work can help caregivers reach doctors or other professionals who aren’t available after hours, she says.

Seek help outside of work

Many communities offer affordable assistance that can help with care, such as meals on wheels, adult daycare, elderly companions, chores services, transportation, and respite care. Goyer recommends contacting a local aging agency — public or private nonprofit organizations that serve the needs of elderly residents — to ask what’s available and request an in-home needs assessment for your loved one.

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers additional services to veterans, including “attendance and attendance” benefits that provide in-home care. If your loved one is poor, they can get home care at no cost to them through Medicaid, Goyer says. Some states even pay family members to provide this care. Check your state’s Medicaid site for more information.

“It’s not a big sum of money, but it’s income that helps you compensate for the fact that you’ve cut back or stopped working,” Goyer says.

If you can afford it, a geriatric care manager might be another source of help. These professionals, who are often nurses or social workers, can assess your loved one’s situation, find care options and be on call in case of an emergency. Hourly fees often range from $100 to $250.

Other family members, friends, and even neighbors may also be willing to help if asked. A relative who does not live nearby could still help by paying bills or dealing with insurance companies, for example. A neighbor could check regularly and call you if there is a problem.

Even if you need to stop or reduce your work hours, this research can help you create a care plan that details how you will handle daily responsibilities, who will help you, who to turn to in an emergency, and how you will care for yourself. your mental and emotional health, says Stacey Watson, life events planning manager at Fidelity. This alone can reduce your stress and help you feel more in control.

“Having a plan in place can make a huge difference,” says Watson.

FILE – This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for the personal finance website. (NerdWallet via AP, File) {Taken from column 7.12.21}

This column was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Contact Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner and Columnist at NerdWallet, at [email protected] or @lizweston.


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