Home is more than just a house. It’s where you’ve made memories and built a life. No wonder it takes on such a central importance for seniors. Nearly 90 percent of seniors say they want to age in place, remaining at home as long as possible.
The idea that aging in place is always best extends well beyond the senior demographic. Convincing friends, family, and children that moving a loved one to a senior living community can be a challenge. This is why so many adult caregivers feel guilty when they look for outside help because they’re overwhelmed by their senior loved one’s increasing care needs, and they can’t handle it all on their own.
The reality is that seniors live longer, happier lives in senior living communities. That’s because keeping your parent at home can exact a heavy toll on the whole family. Here are some costs for caring for a loved one in your home that you might not have considered.
If your loved one needs just a bit of help around the house, you can probably meet those needs for a while. But most age-related conditions are chronic and progressive, which means they get worse with time.
Your loved one will eventually need more care, and if they have a condition like dementia, they may eventually need 24/7 support. Even if you were willing to give up your entire life to care for your parent—something they would almost certainly not want you to do—no caregiver can possibly meet all of a senior’s needs. Inevitably, something will be unintentionally neglected.
Family members are not aging care experts. They’re unlikely to know many things about their loved one’s increasingly complex care needs, for example:
- Dementia changes vision.
- Specific tactics can reduce the time you spend fighting with your parent about daily care needs.
Although you might think that you’re making a powerful sacrifice to give your loved one the gift of remaining at home, in reality you may be sacrificing your own well-being to provide your loved one with inferior care. Because family caregivers are not experts, they’re more likely to miss important health cues. They may not know how to advocate for the best care, or when it’s time to switch (or stop taking) a medication.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and no matter how good you are at scouring the Internet for information, you’re not going to have the experience and educational background a professional caregiver brings to the table. This can lead to medication errors, delayed care, or inappropriate treatment for pain.
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Physical Needs and Risks
What about diet and exercise? Can ensure your loved one gets tasty food that still meets their nutritional needs? Working someone’s specific dietary needs into family meals can be a real challenge. Whoever is cooking is going to have to think of things like sodium levels, sugar, or digestive issues for one person when planning meals for the whole family. It may not sound like a giant change, but think of how it will impact your already busy life.
Unless you’re able to hire a 24/7 care team, which will probably cost more than moving your loved one to a senior living community, your loved one will likely spend some time alone. After all, family caregivers need to sleep, shop, and tend to their families. This increases the risk of falls and other accidents, especially if your loved one has dementia or judgment issues.
If you are your loved one’s primary caregiver, odds are good you don’t have the time or resources to also ensure their life is enriched with meaningful socialization and fun activities. They may spend most of their time home alone, watching TV, and becoming progressively lonelier.
Loneliness feels awful and is a far cry from the enriched retirement your loved one once dreamed of. Loneliness is also medically harmful for seniors. It increases the risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Premature death
Aging in place, when it leaves your loved one feeling isolated, can be deadly.
People who have never been caregivers often talk about how rewarding the work must be.
A Personal Toll
The reality of caregiving can be quite bleak. Sure, you may get closer to your parent or enjoy helping them, but you may also feel resentful of all you have to do, especially if other members of the family don’t help. This resentment can lead to guilt, which causes you to make more sacrifices, triggering more resentment and a miserable storm of painful emotions.
The physical and emotional realities of caregiving can take a toll. You may sleep less, spend less time on your own hobbies, have to sacrifice opportunities at work, or see your marriage suffer. You may have to physically lift your loved one many times each day, and eventually help them with toileting. If your loved one has dementia, they may not have the ability to express gratitude. In some cases, seniors project their own sadness and frustration about their condition onto their beloved caregivers, becoming critical or even abusive.
A Family Affair
In addition to the daily strain of care, odds are good that others outside of your living situation will be happy to tell you what a terrible job you’re doing. Family disputes over caregiving decisions are common—whether it’s the brother who keeps promising to show up to help mom but who never manages to do so, or the cousin who thinks you’re doing everything wrong but who won’t lift a finger to help. Rest assured, home caregiving is a thankless task that can exacerbate family tensions.
Given these common experiences, no wonder so many caregivers struggle with serious emotional distress. About 40 percent of dementia caregivers suffer depression symptoms.
Keeping a family member at home can be an immense financial burden. You’ll have all of the usual expenses of maintaining a home—the mortgage, the upkeep, the bills—in addition to caregiving expenses.
Family caregivers provide $470 billion annually in unpaid care. They spend an average of $7,000 of their own money on caregiving expenses each year. To put this figure into perspective, that’s almost 13 percent of the average American’s annual income.
As your loved one’s needs change, you will likely find that a single caregiver, and sometimes even an entire family of caregivers, is no longer able to shoulder the burden without help. Depending on how many hours your loved one needs care, hiring in-home care can be more expensive than moving your loved one to an assisted living community.
Frustratingly, with in-home care you’ll be paying more for fewer services. In-home aides don’t always offer socialization with other seniors, a variety of planned activities, or gourmet meals. There won’t be live music or celebrations, no matter how loving the aide you hire is. These are amenities you can only get in a senior living community. Senior living can save you money while offering a greater return on your investment.
A Better Alternative
Caring for your loved one doesn’t have to be a source of chronic stress that leaves you depressed, overwhelmed, and wondering if you’re doing any good at all. The right senior living community relieves caregiver burden and burnout, and offers your loved one a vibrant place to call home.
They’ll enjoy better food tailored to their nutritional needs, the exact level of support and care they require, plenty of activities, and a better life. Your loved one can forge new connections with other seniors, attend special events, and enjoy a living space they’re proud to call home.
Aging doesn’t have to mean giving up on joy, even when a person’s health problems make it difficult for them to live out their retirement dreams. Cedarhurst would love to help you compare your options. To learn more, check out our free TRUE Cost Calculator.
*Originally published May 2021. Updated June 2023.