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Caregiving is hazardous to health, finances

One in four adult Americans serve as caregivers to an elderly relative or friend, often putting a strain on their own savings and retirement plans.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 12, 2012 4:00PM

This post comes from Anne Tergesen at partner site SmartMoney.


SmartMoney on MSN MoneyThose who serve as caregivers to elderly relatives need no reminder of the potential toll it can take. For the rest of us, a new report from AARP Public Policy Institute may prove instructive.


Titled "Valuing the Invaluable: 2011 Update, The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving," the report quantifies the emotional and financial stress many caregivers experience.


According to the report, one in four adult Americans serve as caregivers to an elderly relative, friend or spouse experiencing difficulty managing daily activities. In 2009, that translated to about 42.1 million caregivers at any given point in time.

"Since some episodes of caregiving begin or end during the year, the total number of individuals providing care during the year is significantly higher, estimated at 61.6 million," the report adds.


The profile of a typical caregiver is not surprising. She (some 65% are women) is 49 years old and works outside the home. Post continues below.

Here's where the stress comes in: She spends nearly 20 hours a week providing care -- juggling such tasks as administering medications, providing transportation, and serving as a health care advocate with her responsibilities to an employer and other family members. The average caregiver does this for five years. Phew ....


It's not surprising, then, that the report finds that caregiving can take a considerable toll on the caregiver's physical and emotional health:

  • 69% of caregivers responding to an online survey said caring for a loved one was their No. 1 source of stress.
  • A "review of studies" suggests that about 25% to 50% of caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for "major depression."
  • An estimated 17% to 35% of family caregivers perceive their health as fair to poor -- a higher range than non-caregivers report.

There are also many signs that those taking on this role experience financial stress. Some even make sacrifices that could potentially compromise their own retirement security:

  • One study found that in 2009, about 27% of caregivers reported a "moderate to high degree of financial hardship as a result of caregiving."
  •  A recent survey found that 60% "were concerned about the impact of providing care on their personal savings."
  • 21% say that caregiving "strains their household finances," with 42% of caregivers spending more than $5,000 a year on caregiving expenses.
  • Almost 70% report "making work accommodations," including leaving early or taking time off.

Those who reduce their hours or quit their job sacrifice future wages and benefits. According to a recent study, those who leave the workforce forfeit about $116,000 in wages, $138,000 in Social Security, and $50,000 in pension benefits. "These estimates range from a total of $283,716 for men to $324,044 for women, or $303,880 on average," the AARP report says.


More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:

Jan 30, 2012 7:01PM
I took over the primary caregiving for my grandparents about 2 years ago when I lost my job - my mom figured that since I was home anyway, what difference would it make if I helped out with them as well? I didn't expect to be out of work as long as I was so I ended up moving into my grandparents house for the last year and half and took over their care - luckily I should say I got a job over the holidays. Of course, I never asked for any payment and since I was living with them and looking for a job, their fixed income was supporting all 3 of us so money was incredibly tight. When I moved out 3 weeks ago, my grandmother was terribly despondent since she was use to me being there on a daily basis so I'm still spending a lot of time with them most evenings. I even went so far as to buy her an inexpensive, prepaid senior cell phone from SVC and am teaching her how to use it for those just in case moments.
Jan 13, 2012 10:12AM

For those looking for extra help and resources in caring for a loved one, they may want to consider a free, private Community web site to organize family and friends during times of need, called Lotsa Helping Hands. Family caregivers can get respite and relief from tapping into the many offers of help they receive from their circle of friends and family. The service includes an intuitive group calendar for scheduling meals, rides and other daily activities as well as community sections (well wishes, blogs, photos) that provide emotional support to the family. 

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