According to a 2015 study approximately 43.5 million caregivers provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the prior 12 months. About 34.2 million of those provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older. Earlier studies estimate the economic value of this care at more than $470 billion and rising every year. These caregivers provide a huge service, but who takes care of them and what happens to the care recipients if something happens to the caregiver?

Health and emotional support

Caregivers often sacrifice their own health and wellness to care for others and it takes a significant toll. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 percent to 59 percent suffer from depression and it can last for years after the care recipient has died. Family caregivers are also at increased risk for excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. They are more likely to have a chronic illness than are non-caregivers, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a tendency to be overweight. Another study showed that if you are a caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 and are experiencing mental or emotional strain, you have a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of people your age who are not caregivers.

Obviously, caregiver stress and illness also leave the recipient vulnerable. If something happens to the caregiver, then alternative arrangements need to be made for the recipient. Elder abuse is also more likely to occur in these situations.

It is crucial for caregivers to take care of themselves and seek out family, medical and psychological support. Family and friends of caregivers should be on the look out for signs of stress and illness and offer assistance directly or by helping to find resources. The Family Caregiver Alliance provides great information for caregivers.

Financial support

Caregiving is a financial burden on families. It may require using up savings especially if the caregiver must cut back on work, hire extra help or pay for expenses not covered by insurance. That leaves the caregiver vulnerable not only while they are providing support but for years afterward because less money is left for their own care. Ideally, individuals should discuss financial and legal planning with advisors long before they become a caregiver or need care themselves. However, even once the person is at that stage, a lawyer and planner can help with protecting assets and getting Medicaid.

Legal support

Legal protections should also be addressed for both the caregiver and recipient. If something happens to the caregiver (death or disability), plans must be made for the disabled spouse/child. If the caregiver is incapacitated, he/she will also need assistance. Legal documents that should be executed include a Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and a Living Will and possibly a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust or Supplemental Needs Trust.

As mentioned above, an attorney can also help with Medicaid planning and Medicaid applications.

Caregivers provide invaluable help to their families and deserve their own protection and support.

Planning in advance to the extent possible and asking for or giving additional help as needed is crucial. If you need assistance with planning for your care or a loved one, contact me for a consultation.