The Real Cost of Care

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The most common question asked when a family is looking for care for an aging loved one is, “What will it cost?” While this question is not unexpected, it also isn’t easy to answer, and depends on a wide spectrum of considerations. The first, and perhaps most appropriate, question to be asked is: who will be best suited to provide the care?

Some family caregivers are able to be full-time care providers for their aging family members, either because they are naturally gifted in this role, or because they feel they have no other choice. If you are one who is naturally gifted, you probably see your responsibilities as meaningful and fulfilling. You embrace being a family caregiver with passion and creativity and even gain energy from the care and support you deliver to aging parents and family members. You were born for this work, and you live to serve others.

But if this isn’t you, there are many others who have the job of family caregiver thrust upon them for any number of reasons. You might be the one who lives closest to aging family members, or perhaps you don’t work full-time or don’t have young children to raise. You could also be in a spousal relationship, such as a daughter-in-law, and feel pressured into caring for the aging parent or grandparent simply because you are the youngest and newest family member. You could even be an older grandchild who is not yet living independently and as such you are expected to move in with grandparents to provide live-in care as a family responsibility. In any of these situations you could rightfully feel stressed, exhausted, guilty and frustrated in the role of family caregiver.

Others don’t physically provide all the care needed by their aging parents; rather, they coordinate that care through volunteers or paid professional caregivers. Several factors need to be in alignment for this caregiving role to be a possibility. You need to be a decision-maker with strategic skills to be able to create and manage a schedule and coordinate volunteers, or to choose an agency and work with it to create and manage your loved one’s care. There must also be financial resources if care will be hired, either privately or through an agency. If private help is hired, there is an added burden to becoming an employer with filing the appropriate state and federal hiring paperwork as well as collecting employee portions and paying all the employer costs involved with hiring employees, but that’s a story for another time.

Whichever situation best describes you, you are not alone. Whatever path you walk, there is always a cost for care. Often the price of care impacts your bank account or that of another, but that’s not the only way to calculate the true cost.

The natural caregiver’s cost can be felt in limitations to the pursuit of other interests, the inability to engage in social opportunities, and even a lack of focus on one’s personal and family health and welfare.

The forced family caregiver’s cost is more emotional in nature. Feelings of resentment, guilt, and anger may color your relationships with other family members and cause stress on your marriage as well. This cost has been disruptive in many family relationships. 

If you are the coordinator family caregiver with volunteer or privately hired employees your cost comes mostly in relationships. While you may still be able to pursue career, social, and spiritual relationships, being the boss is never easy, and if you aren’t gifted as a scheduler and sweet talker, you can get in big trouble quickly! Losing relationships means losing volunteers and/or losing employees if you aren’t an experienced manager with excellent people and communication skills. And, of course, if you are paying privately hired caregivers, there’s the organizational piece to all the paperwork and managing a payroll.

If you’ve hired privately or engaged an agency to provide the care, your cost is partly financial, and home care becomes more expensive with each passing year. Resources must be managed carefully to obtain the necessary care while keeping tabs on what is still in the bank account, and other family members may question how Mom’s money is being spent.

Being a family caregiver on any level always carries a cost, and the negative impacts may be felt in your physical, emotional, spiritual, or social well-being, as well as with your career options and family relationships. But if you feel called to this work, in whatever capacity, God will equip you and give you the necessary resources to do the work with a joyful heart. If you are the gifted caregiver give thanks for your calling. If you are the forced caregiver pray for patience, endurance, strength and resources to carry you through. If you are the coordinator caregiver give thanks for the ability to do what needs doing with the resources God has already provided, and thank Him for equipping you for the role you play in your loved one’s care. Home Instead has created an excellent family caregiver resource with lots of information to make your task easier and more manageable. 

Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about what care really costs.

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