April 17, 2011

USA: Being caregiver takes special planning

HUDSON VALLEY, NY / Times-Herald Record / April 17, 2011

Taking care of elderly loved one has costs

Marilyn Herrin, 68, left, recommends that caregivers seek out
free services that are offered by community organizations and
agencies. Here she assists her brother Bob Herrin, 74, with
his seat belt.  MCT

By Christian Livermore, Times Herald-Record

It's a duty that many of us will eventually assume — that of caregiver of an elderly loved one.

Apart from the emotional demands, there's also a financial cost caregivers must contend with — and should prepare for in advance.

"If you start planning early enough, even when you don't think it's ever going to happen, then you have the peace of mind of knowing that regardless of the circumstances, you're prepared," said Sandy Altman, senior counsel and elder law attorney at Jacobowitz & Gubits in Walden. "Then you can just go on with the job of living your lives happily."

Caregivers, on average, spend more than $5,500 per year in out-of-pocket expenses, said Sandra Timmerman, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Long-distance caregivers shell out more than $8,700 per year for incidentals such as transportation, food and supplies, she said.

Caregiver's plan affected

The demands of caregiving can also affect a caregiver's plan for working and retirement.

"They often have to take a leave, and it depends on if the employer is big enough and has a paid leave program, and if they don't, the caregivers usually have to finance it themselves," said Michael Ettinger, president and elder law attorney at Ettinger Law Firm, which has offices in Fishkill and the Town of Wallkill. "Perhaps the parents can afford to pay, but, in many cases, the parent can't."

Often, when the need for care becomes more acute, the caregivers cut back to part-time or drop out of work altogether.

That's what happened to Marilyn Herrin, who retired from her job in human resources in Virginia four years ago and returned to Texas to care for her 96-year-old mother and 74-year-old brother.

"I was not ready to retire, with this economy the way it is," said Herrin, 68. Economics forced her to.

Preparation important

Experts advise that you think long and hard and prepare as much as possible before becoming a caregiver.

"It's not only the financial aspects, but you also have to take into consideration the emotional needs, because all of a sudden your life is devoted to someone else," Altman said. "It may be fair because when you were a child your parents' lives were devoted to you, but that isn't easy, either."

E-Mail: clivermore@th-record.com

The Dallas Morning News contributed to this story.

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