Boston Aging Well
Helpful tips for family caregivers
Family caregivers face many decisions with life-altering consequences. In this July issue of our newsletter we explore the financial consequences—and possible remedies—of leaving your job to care for an aging relative. We look at the emotional consequences when an elder is facing the need for help at home. And last, we offer guidance about addiction concerns as a consequence of needing to take pain medications for a serious illness.
Before you quit your job
It may be true: Your aging relative needs more and more care. You know you are the best person for the job. But it’s too much to do on top of your own work. Think twice before exiting the workforce, however. There are some stiff financial consequences.
For example, if you are midcareer, you are in your prime income-earning years. This is when you want to double down on retirement savings. If your employer offers retirement matching funds, you want to be in a position to grab them! And continue contributing to Social Security.
According to a Met Life study:
- Men age 50 and over who left work to care for a parent lost an average of $89,107 in wages. The impact on their Social Security benefits was $144,609. Loss of pension income, $50,000. Altogether, early retirement cost male employees $283,716 over their lifetime.
- Caregiving women age 50 and over got hit much harder. They tended to leave work sooner. Lost wages averaged $142,693. Women lost $131,351 in Social Security. Figuring lost pension at $50,000, early retirement cost female employees $324,044.
Consider these options:
- Hiring help at home may be less expensive than losing your wages. Suggest sharing the cost with your siblings. (Show them this article!) Then no one among you bears the sole financial burden.
- You might take advantage of an adult day center to provide care during your work hours.
- Ask about flex-time options so you can work when others can care for mom or dad.
- Investigate Family Medical Leave. If your company is big enough, you may be able to take weeks or months off. (It is unpaid.) That may get you through a crisis and buy you time to make other arrangements.
In your generous desire to help, be careful you don’t shortchange your own future.Return to top
"I don't need help" – Part 2
When a loved one obviously needs help at home but refuses to allow it, it’s frustrating! Below are two common concerns, with suggestions for ways to problem solve together.
Cost is a very practical barrier. Many older adults feel particularly vulnerable where money is concerned. They don’t want to spend! But the cost of help depends on the type of help needed.
If licensed care providers are what your relative needs—for example, home visits with a physical therapist after a hip surgery—Medicare and supplemental insurance usually cover these costs.
If nonmedical help is needed (cooking, laundry, errands), there may be resources to assist. Maybe your relative has long-term care insurance. Perhaps he or she is eligible for VA benefits.
Or it may be that your loved one does not have an accurate picture of his or her financial resources. If you are the person your loved one trusts with money matters, ask if you can review the facts together to better understand his or her concerns.
Retaining control over their life. It’s common for accepting help to symbolize “the end of my independence.” That’s a scary thought. Realistically, though, all of us will need assistance at some point. You might try asking, “Under what circumstances would you see yourself accepting help at home?” This allows your loved one to explore his or her own red flags. Plus, it gives you insight about what life event might make home care acceptable and why.
When hiring help, look for ways your relative can retain as much control as possible:
- Pick the caregiver.
- Choose the days and times for help.
- Decide on the care attendant’s tasks and participate in giving the instructions.
- Clarify if this is a short-term or long-term arrangement.
Opioid addiction and serious illness
Morphine, hydrocodone, fentanyl . . . with the opioid crisis in our country, it can be scary to hear that a frail or seriously ill relative needs this type of medicine. What are the risks of addiction?
Fortunately, addiction is rarely an issue for individuals dealing with cancer or a painful terminal condition.
Understanding addiction. People who are “addicted” have such an intense desire for a drug, they do whatever it takes to get more of it. Their craving overpowers their concerns about relationships and their ability to function in the world. People with a painful, serious illness rarely behave this way.
The need for more medication. Over time, the body develops a “tolerance.” This means that a higher dose of the drug is needed to achieve the same relief. This is just a biological truth. A legitimate need for more medication is a far cry from an addictive craving that sparks irrational behavior.
Breakthrough pain. It is also very common with cancer and other conditions to have pain spikes in between doses. A booster dose of the medication is then essential. It is not a sign of addiction. Simply part of the unpredictability of pain.
Possible signs of addiction
- Going to multiple doctors for pain medicine
- Going to multiple pharmacies to fill prescriptions
- Using up a prescription early
- Taking ALL the breakthrough doses
If you are worried. Ask your relative’s health provider if they are concerned. If your loved one has a history of substance abuse, let the doctor know early on. Ask about trying different types of pain medication. Perhaps the opioid can be used in rotation with others. Spiritual distress can also be a source of physical pain. If medication is not enough, ask if a visit with a chaplain—a medical member of the clergy—is possible.Return to top