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Caregivers Must Take Care of Finances, Too
By Anne Perry, The San Diego Union-Tribune
If you are caring for an elderly parent or an ill spouse, you might feel isolated, but you are certainly not alone. As many as 50 million Americans provide full or part-time care to a loved one. Caregiving, in the words of Anne M. Johnson, "is the fastest-growing avocation in America." Johnson is the author, along with Ruth Rejnis, of "The Cost of Caring: Money Skills for Caregivers," (John Wiley & Sons, $14.95) a super new book that provides practical suggestions for keeping caregivers afloat, both emotionally and financially. The founder of Florida Care Giver magazine, Johnson learned that caregivers needed help when her mother-in-law was afflicted several years ago with Alzheimer's. The typical caregiver is a woman over age 45 who is taking care of an ailing spouse or parent. "It's a growing phenomenon," Johnson says. "People are just living longer." While the book is about money management for caregivers, it first tackles the emotional issues that often set the stage for financial decisions. Love and guilt can lead people to do things they might not otherwise. "I have seen young caregivers go into debt, even lose their jobs," Johnson says. In their minds, they think, "It's my mom. I have to do this." Johnson recalls a woman in her 20s who dropped out of college to care for her grandmother, who had Alzheimer's. The granddaughter struggled alone to care for the woman 24 hours a day, remembering how her grandmother had cared for her when she was young. After three years she was almost bankrupt, Johnson says. After seeking help, however, the granddaughter is back in school and rebuilding her life. When someone you love is incapacitated, Johnson says, "your first instinct is to make in emotional decision. And financial decisions often follow emotional ones." That's why Johnson counsels people to think hard about leaving a job or relocating from one city to another to become a caregiver. Even if an elderly parent can afford to have you move in with them, what are you giving up when you walk away from your job? "What's happening to your pension, Social Security and your health insurance?" Johnson asks.
There are some alternatives to simply quitting. For example, consider using the Family and Medical Leave Act, which applies to employers with more than 50 workers. The federal law allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks off without pay in any 12-month period to care for a seriously ill, immediate family member. If you need more than 12 weeks, or if your company is small, consider asking for a six-month or one-year leave of absence. You might be able to retain your health insurance under the federal law known as COBRA.
Johnson and Rejnis offer these financial do's and don'ts for caregivers:
Not everyone is cut out to be a full-time caregiver, either because of work, family or geographic constraints. Sometimes people must instead become caretakers -- those who oversee care rather than provide it directly.
This is especially true for the grown children who live far from elderly parents. That's why a host of Internet sites and non-profit groups now exist to help caretakers.
The following is a partial list of information and support groups:
Copyright 1998 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
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