Do you have loved ones who have been affected by Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia? I do – and I’m committed to being part of the effort to find a cure. But in the meantime, I hope that, as financial advisors, we are doing whatever we can to support those of our clients who give so much of themselves to help their loved ones dealing with this terrible illness or any other serious health issue.
Clients who serve as caregivers, often for aging family members, typically face emotional and physical stress. Simultaneously, caregiving can lead to financial stress, too, as caregivers often are forced to scale back their careers or leave them altogether or go into debt to pay for long-term care or other expenses that may not be covered.
Nonetheless, as financial advisors and trusted guides, we can help families plan for, respond to and bounce back from adversity. In short, we can nurture and support their resiliency.
Still, the challenge is significant. Consider this: In 2019, caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementias contributed more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care, worth about $244 billion in services, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, which also reports that about two-thirds of caregivers are women and one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
This caregiver gender gap is a matter of great concern, because many women who are now caring for aging parents also have taken time out from the workforce earlier to care for young children. And women who leave work to care for an elderly family member lose wages and the ability to contribute to 401(k)s or similar plans. Plus, they also lose an average of $131,000 in lifetime Social Security benefits, according to the Brookings Institution.
Of course, while this “big picture” is daunting, there’s great variation in individuals’ lives. Consequently, we must take a holistic look at our clients’ health, family and financial situations, being aware that their choice of becoming a caregiver is highly personal. Still, we can provide valuable help.
Many of our usual points of advice are applicable to caregivers, such as contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, maintaining an emergency fund and keeping a lid on debts. These pieces of guidance will certainly depend on a caregiver’s employment status and financial resources, so we need to be highly sensitive to these factors as we offer suggestions.
And by taking a comprehensive approach, we can help caregivers think differently about their situation. For instance, it’s possible they could get some compensation for their caregiving duties. Many local governments pay non-spouse caregivers who act as personal attendants, although the rules vary greatly by state and county.
We may also need to connect clients to tax or legal professionals to establish necessary arrangements, such as a financial power of attorney. Just the existence of this document may help clients avoid getting their personal finances entangled with those of the individual for whom they’re caring.
In addition to our knowledge, we need to demonstrate what should be our greatest asset – empathy. There’s tremendous pressure associated with caring for a loved one with an injury or a disease such as Alzheimer’s, and we need to understand what our clients are going through and show our tangible support. At Edward Jones, we’ve partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association in various ways – walking, educating and advocating – to help our clients, colleagues and communities as we work to end this terrible disease.
Furthermore, we help sponsor the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline, which provides reliable information and support to anyone who needs assistance. The Helpline is staffed by knowledgeable Alzheimer’s Association professionals and serves people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, caregivers, families and the public.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, dedicated to supporting caregivers as they care for others. This year’s theme, “Caregiving Around the Clock,” describes the essence of the total commitment caregivers are making on behalf of their loved ones. The physical, emotional and financial toll caregivers face can be overwhelming. As financial advisors, and as an industry, we owe it to the families we serve to listen with an empathic ear while helping them plan for their futures.