Elder care is defined as unpaid personal care provided to seniors over the age of 50, according to Independent Home Living, an organization for seniors and their caregivers. Caregivers provide everything from help with mobility and basic personal care to housework, yard work, shopping and finances. They might provide transportation and medication management. Most elder caregivers are family members that can include a spouse, adult child or other relation, as well as close friends and neighbors. While families save money by providing these services themselves, the costs to families and businesses for elder care services can add up.
The savings that families realize when one person steps in to provide full-time elder care affect the American economy as it translates into unreimbursed pay that workers will never see. Nationally, caregivers provide approximately $375 billion in unrealized compensation every year, according to Independent Home Living.
Many elder caregivers in the United States continue working while taking care of senior family members at home. Independent Home Living reports that about 69 percent of female caregivers still work, while 82 percent of male caregivers continue working after becoming the primary caregiver for a senior. The challenges of balancing work and their caregiving duties often affect their performance at the job. Estimates show that American businesses lose about $33 billion in productivity when employees leave work early, go in late, take unpaid leave and call in sick. The average employee/caregiver costs a business $2,110 per year.
Often, a family member volunteers to become the primary caregiver for a declining parent or relative. Family caregivers may have to relinquish their current jobs when seniors need round-the-clock supervision, as in the case of Alzheimer’s sufferers. While the family may save the actual costs of paying a caregiver’s salary, they typically incur other costs, most notably in healthcare for the caregiver. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, those family caregivers taking care of an Alzheimer's patient often see their own health decline, incurring additional medical costs averaging $4,766 per year.
Myriad options are available for family caregivers to ease the load of responsibilities without incurring enormous costs, in the range of $69,715 for one year in a nursing home or $36,372 in an assisted living facility. Medicare covers the first 20 days in a nursing home, but does not pay for home health care. Community organizations provide options such as adult day care facilities, which are free in many communities. According to Smart Money, the average cost for adult day care when free programs are not available is about $64 per day. The national average for a home health aide is about $20 an hour.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."