The “Costs” of Caregiving

cost of caregiving

It’s Not Just Financial

The number one social justice issue for Boomers for the next several decades may very well turn out to be the economics of aging. I believe this to be true.

The cost, fiscal, emotional and spiritual to individuals and families can be overwhelming. Many of you who are reading this know exactly what I am speaking about. You have had to negotiate with insurance companies. You have had to deal with drugs that seem to be priced for the wealthy. You have had to find the means to afford home aides for a loved one, costs not often covered by insurance. Some have had to move a loved one from one domicile to another, often long distance. These costs are not restricted to end of life care. Illness, of chronic varieties, can cause similar stresses and strains.

There is another aspect of caregiving cost, one that often goes undiscussed. I speak of the expenditure of time. In our Jewish tradition, there is a discussion in the Talmud concerning the 5th Commandment, “honor your father and mother”. The rabbis of the Talmud ask the question what does it mean to “honor”. They ask that it means that an adult child needs to help clothe and maintain a parent, and assist them in their mobility.

The texts asks who pays for this and the answer is that a parent should, as long as they have the means to take care of this. Then the question is asked as to how then does the adult child “pay”? The answer is with time. Now this texts is centuries old, yet, for those of us who have lived this life stage, we know first hand how true the statement is. The adult child often does “pay”, or honor, that parent through the expenditure of time. Interesting too that in our society, time is often more precious than money.

There are emotional “costs” as well. Many of us know that. Caregiving can be a many year proposition and often cause stress and strain within a family system. People become exhausted as they juggle multi tasks; from their work to children, to perhaps grand-children, to spouse, etc. It is easy for the care-giver to get “lost”, to loose their own self as they give to others.

This issue of the cost associated with caregiving is one that will continue to grow. There is a regular stream of articles and opinions that are now developing that seek to deal with this issue. The New York Times recently carried a series of articles on rising costs and one such piece even recounted one family’s use of social media to “crowd source” for funds to help pay for a loved one. The article even detailed web sites that can assist a family in this endeavor. Noted economists have added to this body of work. Dr Laurence Kotlikoff, Boston University, has written books on the economic impact of aging. His most recent work on this, “The Clash of Generations” outlines several scenarios that speak to the growing economic challenges to society, made even more real by the aging of the baby boom generation, all of whom are at least 50 years of age.

There is even a small trickle of an attempt to organize Boomers to man the barricades of denial. Dr. Ira Byock, of the Institute for Human Caring in California, recently wrote a piece that was published in the Review section of the Sunday New York Times of February 1. His article, entitled, “Dying Shouldn’t Be So Brutal“, called for a grass roots movement on the part of Boomers to re-imagine the costs associated with end of life care.  In calling for this social action movement he wrote “It’s high time we boomers shook off our post-menopausal and ‘low-T’ malaise and reclaimed our mojo”.  Byock railed against the poor quality of care associated, in his view, with end of life care.

By extension, part of this is seen to be the costs of tests that are not really beneficial, but drive up costs, which are passed to the consumer. This is a complicated issue, no doubt, and contextual. It may fine if we do not order or participate tests and drugs for someone else. But, for my parent, or my spouse, or me; well, that changes things doesn’t it? The underlying point of this is that it is time for a concerted and honest conversation about the costs associated with care. These costs are multi-faceted and impact a total family system. It is time for that conversation. Maybe even time for the revolution!

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About Richard Address

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min is the founder and editor of www.jewishsacredaging.com. He is the author of “Seekers of Meaning: Baby Boomers, Judaism and the Pursuit of Healthy Aging”. Rabbi Address developed the programs in family issues for the North American Reform Jewish movement and currently serves as a rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, N.J. He hosts the weekly “Boomer Generation Radio” in Philadelphia

One thought on “The “Costs” of Caregiving

  1. Ray Smith

    An easy answer for many: BEFORE becoming ill, buy a small, affordable, long term care insurance policy that can pay for a few hours per day of professional home care…and mitigate (but not completely cover) the cost of assisted living or a nursing home if that should become necessary. Those few hours per day of paid home care will change the adult child from hands-on (as in assisting with bathing & other things that diminish the parents’ dignity) caregiver to the manager of care.

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