Older adults Cover stories

Caring for the caregiver

Your well-being is important, too

Photo: CasarsaGuru/iStockphoto

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Costs of caregiving

The Family Caregiver Alliance, on its Caregiver.org website, lists nine questions to ask yourself and other family members about the financial aspects of becoming a caregiver. They include: How will you pay your own rent/mortgage if you’re moving in to care for somebody? How will you be reimbursed for added expenses of caregiving? What happens if the person you’re caring for runs out of money?

Those questions and the others are valuable because, according to AARP, 45% of caregivers experience at least one of the following five financial impacts: ⁃

  • Stopped saving money
  • Took on more debt
  • Used up personal short-term savings
  • Left bills unpaid/paid bills late
  • Borrowed money from family or friends

How to fill your tank

Driving down the road one day, Amy Goyer knew her luck – and fuel tank – could run out at any moment.

“I was running out of gas,” said Goyer, a caregiver expert for AARP.com. “I was afraid I was going to break down.”

With little fuel to spare, she made it. As she left the station, Goyer realized the panic she had felt is what caregivers experience every day, and that those who give care run better on a full tank.

“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” she said.

So Goyer wrote a blog about four levels of “fill-ups” for caregivers – quick tank fillers, premium fill-ups, scheduled tune-ups and routine maintenance. Taking part in only one level, Goyer says, won’t suffice. As a caregiver, you should partake in all four categories to ensure you’re maintaining your physical and mental well-being.

The suggestions include:

Fill up quickly. Try phoning a friend, enjoying a mug of your favorite coffee or tea, or chatting with friends on social media. Goyer recom-mends the AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group on Facebook, which provides tips, support and a way to connect with other care-givers.

At a premium. Enjoy an exercise class, play a round of golf, take a hike or do other things to give yourself a one- to two-hour break. Goyer would take her parents on what they called fun Friday adventures. “Mom would get her hair done, then we’d go out to eat,” she said. “That change in routine helped fill me up and filled them up, too.”

Get in tune. Plan out a longer period of respite and go on vacation to recharge. Travel for pleasure or attend a workshop or retreat.

Maintain yourself. Commit to regular events, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting regular medical checkups and massages or acupuncture, for example. “

“This is not selfish,” Goyer said. “It’s practical. You can’t expect yourself to run on empty. Anything we do for ourselves is good.”

In addition, your time is an important commodity. Six out of 10 caregivers said they worked full time in addition to providing care, according to AARP. Meanwhile, more than 30% spend 21 or more hours a week on caregiving duties. “That’s a part-time job,” Goyer said. “If you’re already working, now you’ve got two jobs.”

AARP encourages caregivers who work to meet with their supervisor and human resources department to discuss resources that are available to help, such as flexible work options, counseling support services, paid time off or family leave, or elder care referrals.

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