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The Ribbon - Care for Caregivers

Caregivers Must Take Care of Finances, Too

By Anne Perry, The San Diego Union-Tribune
October 11, 1998

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:

  • Figure out your net worth, which is computed by subtracting your liabilities or what you owe from your assets, or what you own.
  • Consult a financial planner, preferably one who charges by fee only.
  • Itemize the cost of caregiving. Determine how much of it you can afford pay.
  • Do not shortchange your future by raiding your retirement plans.
  • Explore possible tax savings, such as declaring your family member a dependent. A tax credit could also be available if you pay to have your relative cared for while you work.

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:

  • Eldercare Locator, 800-677-116.
    This national hotline will refer you to resources in your community.
  • American Self-Help Clearinghouse, St. Clare's Riverside Medical Center, 25 Pocono Road, Denville, N.J. 07834. Phone: 973-625-7101.
    This organization will provide you with contacts for support groups in your area.
  • Children of Aging Parents, 1609 Woodbourne Road, Suite 302A, Levittown, Pa. 19057-1511. Phone: 800-227-7294 or 215-945-6900.
    This national organization provides information on caregiver issues and referrals to local support groups and care managers.
  • National Family Caregivers Association, 9621 E. Bexhill Drive, Kensington, Md. 20895-3104. Phone: 800-535-3198, or online at <% NLWebLink "http://www.nfcacares.org", "www.nfcacares.org", "National Family Caregivers Association", "" %>
    This association, a national not-for-profit membership organization, offers a support network and a quarterly newsletter.
  • Family Caregivers Alliance, 425 Bush St., Suite 500, San Francisco 94108. Phone: 800-896-3650 or 415-434-3388, or online at <% NLEmailLink "info@caregiver.org", "Family Caregiver's Alliance", "#006666" %>
    The non-profit organization assists family caregivers of adults suffering from memory loss.
  • Caregiver Resource, online at <% NLWebLink "http://www.caregiver911.com", "www.caregiver911.com", "Caregiver Resource", "" %>
    This online site gives access to caregiving resources, information, books and publications.
  • Well Spouse Foundation, P.O. Box 801, New York, N.Y. 10023. Phone: 212-644-1241.
    This non-profit group offers referrals, information and support to individuals caring for an ill spouse.

Copyright 1998 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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