Are You a Family Caregiver? If Helping an Aging Relative, Then, Yes.
Caring for an aging parent, older neighbor or other elder qualifies you as a caregiver.
by Joyce O. Beckett
Recognizing that you are a family caregiver is difficult for many of the over 70 million persons who care for family members, young or old. Your membership in this group has privileges that are often overlooked. A family caregiver is "any person who provides physical, emotional, financial or spiritual resources to someone she/her is close to." The care partner may be a senior parent, an elderly neighbor or close friend, not necessarily a biological relative. This discussion presents some of the benefits of labeling yourself as a family caregiver.
Caregiving, like any other label, places you in a category where you are likely to share some characteristics with others. This familiarity often means you can more easily discuss your caregiving concerns with other caregivers and understand the challenges of care giving. For example, most caregivers of youth or elders add care giving responsibilities to their many other tasks. As a result, you, like many caregivers, may feel you have too little time to get everything done but find it difficult to reorganize, or let go of some responsibilities.
In addition to a feeling of being a kindred spirit, the title of caregiver provides some opportunities that many caregivers have never considered. These are a little like the various discounts one gets by being a member of an automobile club. Employed caregivers of elders can turn to their employers to determine what services and benefits are available. They may ask if family leave, flextime, educational programs and long term care insurance are available. Progressive, employee-oriented companies have determined that family caregiver benefits help improve productivity and the company’s bottom line. In addition to the work place, community services are available that have been developed especially for family caregivers and aging care partners. These include support groups, day care, in-home services and help with resource referrals. Community organizations, including the local Area Agency on Aging and the Information and Referral Service of the local United Way, provide information about various, helpful, community services.
Financial help is available from several sources. Federal aid may be available through a "Cash and Counseling" Program, if your loved one is eligible for Medicaid. This program provides funds to the aging care partner which can be used to purchase in-home services provided by family members and others. In addition, under the Medicaid law, states have the option to directly pay family caregivers. Participating states recognize the cost savings compared to the cost of care in a long-term care facility. Medicaid personnel can furnish additional information about these two programs. In addition, states offer a comprehensive set of services under the National Family Caregiver Support Program. These include respite care to caregivers of any age who care for persons 55 and over. Another financial resource is the care partner’s long-term care insurance. These policies may pay the caregiver through the insurance’s home-care coverage. Insurance companies can give more definitive coverage information. Finally, for caregivers who provide at least 50% of the financial support for a care partner, it may be possible to deduct the medical expenses on annual tax filings.
Many people helping elders age in place do not think of themselves as caregivers, especially when they provide care to family members. I urge you to ponder the question: "Am I a caregiver?" There are some important privileges and benefits for family caregivers. Many programs provide information, services, and funding that can help with the rewarding and challenging role of family caregiver.
Published July 20, 2011