The costs and benefits of caring for family members

Caregiving for a loved one is hard work physically, mentally, financially and emotionally, and more than 20 million Americans took on the role last year.

Many of those who became caregivers said that doing so brought meaning to their lives and they were grateful to provide care, according to a Merrill Lynch and Age Wave report that surveyed more than 2,000 caregivers. But the impacts werent all positive almost three-quarters of respondents said their financial contributions caused them stress, and 92% of them said they do provide financial assistance, such as paying the bills and handling insurance claims (about half of those that do arent legally authorized to do so either).

Other ways caregivers support their loved ones? Almost 100% said emotional and social support, 92% said household support, 84% said medical care and 64% said physical care. For those who help family members financially, 30% cut back on expenses, 21% dipped into savings and 24% had trouble paying the bills. Many pay out-of-pocket for these expenses, and may not have planned for it financially, said Surya Kolluri, managing director of global wealth and investment management for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. There is a reluctance in terms of finances it is difficult to go over, he said.

See: Read this before becoming your parents caregiver

Families may make arrangements among siblings or other relatives to get paid for their help, but many caregivers are unpaid for the support they provide loved ones (about 43.5 million, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP). Almost half of caregivers spend $5,000 or more a year on caregiving expenses, according to a report from website Caring.com, which include food and clothing, transportation, medications and other medical-related bills. About 18% said they spend somewhere between $5,000 and $9,999 a year and another 10% said they spend somewhere between $10,000 and $19,999.

At the same time, caregivers are responsible for their own responsibilities and needs. More than 75% of all caregivers are female, and spend as much as 50% more time providing care than their male counterparts, according to the Institute on Aging and the average age of a caregiver is a little over 49 years old. Almost half are between 18 to 49 years old, and 34% are 65 and older. Each of those decades has critical financial milestones millennials are balancing student loan debt and buying homes or starting families, those in their 40s are trying to save as much as they can for their retirement while theyre at their peak income and 50 and older caregivers are thinking about their own retirements.

Also see: This baby boomer didnt feel like an adult until he had to take care of his mother

Caregiving becomes even more complicated when mixed with a serious illness, such as dementia or more specifically, Alzheimers. More than 15 million people provide care for someone with this type of disease, according to the Alzheimers Association, which is emotionally taxing but also interferes with caregivers lives and work. More than a quarter of the more than 2,000 participants of the National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan said they had neglected their own health while caring for their sick loved one. Challenges for caregivers of people with dementia included worrying they werent suitable caregivers and conducting their own chores.

It isnt all bad. Aside from spending more time with loved ones, and ensuring the care they are provided is well managed, 91% of caregivers in the University of Michigan poll said taking on the role gave them perspective on their own futures.

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