Affordable care: the many costs of caring for an elderly parent

family carers

Women face a host of challenges but caring for ageing parents is an unexpected one.

Elder care is an issue we all will face. The number of elderly people needing care is not small. Those aged over 85 years (420,300 in 2012) are going to double in the next 20 years.

The ABS also says that 1 in 3 workers are caring for ageing parents, and that figure is growing, with 45% of workers anticipating taking on elder care responsibilities in the next five years.

It’s mostly women who provide care

Overwhelmingly, it is women who bear the cost of caring for their parents as they age.

The average person caring for a parent today is a woman in midlife. In order to care for her parents, many either leave the workforce or reduce their working hours. They pass up promotions, turn down opportunities and stop continuing their education. All of which reduce their current and future earnings and retirement benefits. Stress and worry are also known to take a significant toll on the health of family carers.

There’s lots of support and information for women about balancing child care and a career, but nothing about balancing caring for an ageing parent. People at work aren’t so understanding when it’s your parents needing care. It’s different to child care – because everything can change overnight and last for weeks at a time.

Taking care of our parents in their old age is what we expect ‘good’ daughters and sons to do. But it is demanding, time consuming and costly – particularly to your career.  Guilt plays a big role. We don’t think twice about using child care these days. So why are we reluctant to consider formal care for our parents?

People usually think that a nursing home is the only solution. But the option of home care is growing in popularity, not just because parents prefer to stay in their own homes, but also because the Federal Government is diverting large amounts of funds to support the growing home care industry.

Home care is provided by disability and aged care support workers who visit the home and provide housekeeping and assistance with showering, as well as transportation to appointments and preparing meals and the like. Nearly all the services usually provided in a nursing home, can be provided at home. Surprisingly, the cost of home care is comparatively more affordable than residential care in a nursing home, because you are not paying for meals, accommodation and other overheads.

How to purchase home care

There are a two ways you can obtain home care:

1) hiring a home care agency that employs care workers, or

2) hiring your own care worker privately

The options you choose will depend on the costs you are willing to pay and the choice and control you want over services.

Hiring a home care agency 

Hiring a home care agency can be costly, upwards of $42 per hour – but they provide additional high-end services such as care co-ordination by nursing staff and scheduling/management of care workers if more than one is required.

Hiring your own care worker 

Better Caring (www.bettercaring.com.au) is an online platform that enables you to easily find and hire care workers in your area. Costs average at around $30 an hour.

There are several factors to consider when sourcing assistance with caring for your parent:

  1. What kind of care required? Do they need help with social/domestic care (meals, cleaning transportation), personal care (i.e., showering, toileting, incontinence) or nursing (assistance with medication, wounds etc)?
  2. Who is available and willing to give the support required? If considering using family and/or friends they need to be honest with their availability and desire to provide care. If they are feeling pressured it may adversely impact on their relationships.
  3. How suitable are family and/or friends? Some people may prefer if a non-family member assists with showering and toileting. If lifting is required, do family members know the correct method so as to not hurt themselves or the person receiving care?
  4. What financial resources are available? Are there enough financial resources available to hire a care worker? You could consider having a mixture of professional care workers and family carers.
  5. Who will back up the carers? It is necessary to plan for contingencies such as a carer or care worker falling ill, going on holiday, or other issues which make them unavailable.
  6. Will relationships with family carers be affected? When family/friends take on the role of a carer, their relationship will change. Will this new role be detrimental to the relationship?
  7. What does your parent want? Discuss the possible options with the person receiving the care. Would they prefer a family member be paid to provide care or a professional care worker?