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Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: I read your column a few weeks ago about the woman who, as sole caregiver for her elderly father with Parkinsonís disease, had lost her job because of the time she spends on caregiving. She asked if there was any financial help for her through Medicare or Medicaid. I am an only child, and for the past two years have been the primary caregiver for my 76-year-old mother with Alzheimerís. Because of the time commitment, I had to quit my job as a paralegal to care for her, although our finances required that I work. But the bigger problem is that having Mom in our home is destroying my marriage. My husband complains that we have no social life and that he hardly ever sees me. Our two children mostly fend for themselves. I love my husband and donít want to lose him, but Mom doesnít have the money to pay for outside care, and neither do we.

Answer: We are receiving more and more letters and e-mails from caregivers about the awful stresses they face while taking care of incapacitated adult loved ones. A new study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving released on April 6 indicates that about 44.4 million Americans in 22.9 million households provide unpaid care for someone aged 18 or older. This means that one out of five Americans Ė 21 percent of the population Ė cares for an adult. Seventeen percent of the caregivers provide more than 40 hours of unpaid care each week.

Like you, these duties affect their work: 58 percent of caregivers who work outside the home say they are sometimes late to work, leave early, or take off time during the day to provide care. And, contrary to popular belief, itís not only women who do the caregiving; this study showed that 39 percent of caregivers are men.

In short, the physical, financial, and emotional stresses you are feeling are shared by many caregivers. Based on this study, those who provide caregiving 40 hours a week and more are the most stressed, and often develop health problems themselves. In fact, on a 5-point scale, 46 percent of caregivers in this category rate their physical strain as 4 or 5. Sixty-three percent rate their emotional stress as a 4 or 5, and 34 percent rate their financial burden as a 4 or 5.

But the soaring costs of long-term care mean that many people, like your mother and your family, canít afford assisted living or a nursing home. In fact, the average nursing home bill for a semiprivate room in 2003 in the United States was nearly $58,000 per year, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to a national survey by MetLifeís Mature Market Institute. The cost of assisted-living facilities rose 10 percent during the same time period, to an average of more than $28,000 annually. Because these costs will continue to escalate as the Baby Boomers age, we highly recommend buying long-term care insurance while it is available and affordable.

Thereís another statistic you should know about: According to a study released April 5 that was funded by the National Institute on Aging and conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, a diagnosis of Alzheimerís cuts a personís remaining life expectancy in half. The study of 521 people with newly diagnosed Alzheimerís found that the median survival period was 4.2 years for men and 5.7 years for women, about half what a person of the same age who did not have the disease would be expected to live. While this may be difficult to hear, according to the studyís lead researcher, ďit can help in making appropriate plans for the future.Ē

Now back to your question. You might consider hiring a non-medical home-care worker for several hours a week to give yourself a break and allow you and your husband to have some time to yourselves Click Here. Because of Americaís aging population, the home care industry is booming, and, depending on need, itís cheaper than a nursing home. Your local area agency on aging can give you references, or try the Eldercare Locator Click here or call 1-800-677-1116. Or, you might consider going back to work because the salary youíd earn, together with your motherís income, could perhaps pay a good portion of your motherís bill at an assisted-living facility. And if she meets the required level of needed care, since she has no assets, Medicaid may well fund the cost of her care at a nursing home.



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    Planning Your Future with 20-20 Vision™


    Today, more than 36 million Americans are age 65 or over. There are more than 22 million family-member caregivers. Then there are the Baby Boomers. All are grappling with the major decisions that accompany the latter stages of life. This book is for them. Written by two experts with decades of experience between them, it is a comprehensive guide that instructs readers about how to create a plan to deal with all aspects of aging, helps maximize options and ensure wishes are carried out.

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