The cost of caregiving

A doctomakes a house call. 

Taking care of a loved one who's sick or near the end of their life is hard -- emotionally, physically, financially. It involves long hours without pay and it is a full-time job many Americans find themselves doing. Nearly 42 percent of U.S. workers have cared for an aging family member or friend in the last five years, according to the AARP. They've taken time off because professional care is just too pricey. And insurance rarely covers the cost of home care.

Christian Spratt, who lives with her grandparents in their Tennessee home, knows how difficult it is caring for a loved one. Her grandparents are both in their mid-80s and her grandfather has Alzheimer's.

"I basically run their household, kind of almost like a Carson (butler) on 'Downton Abbey.' You get the groceries done, you get the doctor's appointments done. Every facet of their lives is something that I directly supervise and facilitate," says Spratt.

Both of Spratt's grandparents have Medicare, but she found that the options available to them were limited. Her grandfather is a World War II veteran and a retired federal worker. While Spratt's grandparents have a Medicare supplement due to his job working in the Postal Service, they don't receive veterans' assistance.


 Trimming caregiving costs Five cost-cutting suggestions on how you can save on caregiving costs without compromising care.

You should check federal guidelines for health care programs. In many cases, Medicaid coverage can help with health care and treatment if an individual qualifies based on income.  But rules vary from state to state.  


Spratt says she has two options: stay in her grandparents' home and help them manage their own finances at the sacrifice of her own life or throw in the towel and try to get her grandparents into a nursing home. She says she feels trapped.

"You just feel like there's not enough that you can do in any one direction," she says. "What little income I do get does come from my grandparents. Since my savings is depleted, when this is over -- five minutes from now, five years -- there's nothing left. I will actually have to start my life over from scratch at that point."

For anyone going through the same situation, Spratt says you shouldn't take the decision to become a caretaker lightly.

"These are my grandparents, yes, but they are not my grandparents any more. I know them and have an understanding of them on a personal level that you don't get growing up going to your grandma's for Sunday dinner. You need to be prepared to have everything about these people that you've loved your whole life stripped down to its most basic, human element and have it be dirty and still be able to sleep at night. And wake up the next day and do it all over again," says Spratt.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly included a quote which stated that Medicare becomes available when income is below a certain level.  The correct program is Medicaid. The text has been updated. 

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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