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Becoming a Family Caregiver for an Ailing Loved One

Becoming a Family Caregiver for an Ailing Loved One


Taking on the responsibility of full-time care for an aging relative or loved one living with a disability can be a rewarding experience. Being the primary caregiver helps you rest assured that your loved one is receiving compassionate care from someone who will go above and beyond to ensure they are comfortable and looked after in their daily life.

Even with the best intentions and thoughtful planning, full-time caregiving can be an overwhelming responsibility as well as a significant time commitment. There is also a financial reality that you will face as a caregiver. 

Determining the level of care for your loved one

As family members age or face medical issues, you may consider taking on the responsibility of providing full-time care. But how do you know if this is the right decision for your loved one?  Depending on their needs and unique situation, hiring an in-home care provider may be the better solution for you and your loved one. You can learn more about how to decide that here.

Professional caregivers work closely with older adults to meet their needs as they age. As individuals grow older, their needs change, whether routine or medical, and they may need more help with their daily activities in order to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

Examples of the kinds of help caregivers can provide include:

  • Bathing and grooming
  • Help with toileting
  • Medical appointments and medication compliance
  • Transportation
  • Companionship
  • Cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping
  • Care for animals
  • Laundry
  • Coordinate benefit care/speak to insurance companies on the senior’s behalf, if authorized

Hurdles of choosing to be a family caregiver

Having a family member serve in the role of caregiver can make for a better experience for your loved one and, in some ways, give you peace of mind as well. However, there are some realities to be aware of if you are considering becoming a family caregiver full-time.

Your health

Your own health, both physical and emotional, can be negatively affected when taking on the care of  a family member. Be sure to focus on taking care of yourself as well, such as through rest and breaks, maintaining a healthy diet, and watching out for signs of stress and burnout. When you do need a break, consider looking into respite care, which provides short-term relief for primary caregivers, and can give you time to rest, travel, or spend time with other family and friends.

Your time

Taking care of a loved one who is getting older, or who is living with a disability, will likely require a great deal of your time, too. You may find your own life and responsibilities drop off, not performing as well at work, or having a longer commute as you fulfill the needs of your loved one. Valuable personal time in your own life will likely be less available while you are caregiving for a loved one.

The financial impact

Caregiving can evolve into such time-intensive responsibilities that you could find yourself having less time to hold down a full-time job. In fact, a 2020 AARP survey showed that about 20% of family caregivers reported experiencing a high level of financial stress. Nearly 30% of them stopped saving altogether as a result of providing care for their loved one.

When considering whether to provide care for a loved one you should consider beforehand whether you can properly support yourself while ensuring the best care for your aging family member.

Can family members get paid for their work as a caregiver?

There are certain programs available to help family members care for ailing relatives. You may need to do a bit of research to find the right option for your circumstances.

Medicaid Self-Directed Care

For loved ones on Medicaid, the Medicaid Self-Directed Care Program is one option that gives them the authority to manage their services. In certain states, this program offers recipients the ability to use the resources allocated for home care to pay a family member to help them with their daily needs. The Medicaid Self-Directed Care Program lets seniors have more autonomy over their care.

Note that such programs vary by state, however, and not all states will have an option like this. Each state may also use different criteria to define who qualifies as a “family” caregiver. Find your local Area Agency on Aging to learn more about the possibilities, or call your local Medicaid agency.

Generally, Medicare will not cover the costs of caregiving by a family member.

Veteran’s Benefits

If your loved one is a military veteran, there are special benefits available to cover their home care, including the Veteran’s Directed Home and Community Based Services program. This program gives veterans a flexible spending budget that the veteran can use to pay a family member to act as their caregiver.

National Family Caregiver Support Program

This program does not pay caregivers directly. Rather, it helps fund several different types of services for family caregivers, from training in caregiving to respite care. Learn more about this program.

Long-Term Care Insurance

If you are thinking ahead to who will care for you as you age, you may consider long-term care insurance when creating an estate plan. Certain long-term care insurance policies allow the policyholder to pay family members to work as caregivers. However, that is not true for every policy. Some policies do not allow policyholders to pay family members to work as caregivers if they live in the policyholder’s home.

Before taking out this type of insurance policy, you should speak to a qualified attorney in your area to ensure you are properly advised.

Becoming a full-time caregiver is a rewarding role and whether you’re caring for your loved one on a short-term or long-term basis, ensure you do your research of the best options for your situation, find financial support if needed, and look after your own physical and mental health to ensure that you’re providing the best care for your loved one.

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