Recruiting help when you're the 'designated' caregiver
October 1, 2021 | View PDF
Q: Why am I always the one everyone expects to take care of Uncle Joe? Just because I don’t have a family, it doesn’t mean there aren’t work or personal demands on my time.
A: Demands of caregiving while working is a tough juggling act. Stress and resentment are common emotions while managing interruptions to your daily routine.
Inequity in caregiving is experienced by relatives of older adults across gender, cultural expectations, socio-economic status, ethnic identity or employment status. Caregiving is often managed by a child that is the closest in proximity, a relative that has financial means, or someone with a flexible schedule who can render assistance when needed.
While not knowing if you are the sole provider of informal caregiving, evidence suggests that financial costs are generally not shared equally. With palliative care as an example, friends or family provide mainstay care, often while balancing a full-time job. In pandemic times, these pressing requirements for filling medications, traveling to medical appointments with the person requiring attention, or fielding questions from providers can make one feel especially overwhelmed, underappreciated, riddled with anxiety, or even depressed.
The economic value family members provide is regularly overlooked, and often not charted. A 2015 Canadian study found that those providing end-of-life care spend twice as much time as an unpaid caregiver than if the person would have remained in the hospital under medical supervision. Caregivers may be overseeing care for a person with a chronic condition, while working at home managing their own work schedule (sometimes from the same location), or in other situations via video or telephone communication.
Financial remuneration isn’t always possible by family members, or if contributions are made, not always an equal distribution of funds. Informal caregivers on average spend $7,000 annually taking care of family or friends. Contact a financial planner or a CPA for your personal situation. Also, AARP provides general guidance for claiming older adults as dependents.
Taxpayers have long been able to claim tax credit for children up to age 16. Unlike a deduction, which lowers your taxable income, a tax credit directly reduces your tax bill. The 2017 federal tax law expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to allow taxpayers to claim up to $500 as a nonrefundable “Credit for Other Dependents,” including elderly parents.
Under this provision, in effect through the 2025 tax year, the Internal Revenue Service allows family caregivers to claim some individuals related by adoption, blood or marriage — and even some friends — as “other dependents” on their federal tax return if both parties meet IRS requirements.
The IRS has an interactive tool to help you determine if a dependent qualifies you for a tax credit.
Establish a routine. If Uncle Joe is an early riser and might like a phone call early in the morning, make it a regularly scheduled event. Predictability can aid both of you in having questions prepared in advance, and from getting unexpectedly disrupted at work. Establishing boundaries and frequent conversation can make a caregiver feel less “used” at a moment’s notice.
Communicate with other family members. Does Uncle Joe have children, or are the nieces and nephews the main source of caregiving? Talk to relatives and discuss the financial costs. If you are frequently giving Joe rides to medical appointments, could the family reimburse you for gas? Can the family pay you for running errands or being the main point person? Sometimes others are willing to fund expenses, but they have never been asked to contribute. Find out what the limits are.
Provide family updates on Uncle Joe’s health status. Consider establishing a family Slack workspace, and creating several channels (#medical #financial #COVID) to eliminate multiple text strings. Group chats are sufficient for general updates, however, find a way to post detailed information you can share one time, categorized for ease. Also consider a #resource channel where you could post books or articles of interest to guide the family in providing optimal care. The Notion app is another useful tool for organizing information across platforms.
Plan and be prepared. One fact that is certain, the unexpected will happen. The more proactive you are in your uncle’s care, the better equipped to handle that occasional emergency room visit, a medication snafu, or an additional provider appointment. Keep notes on your computer, in a notebook, on your phone or written in a calendar—whatever works for you. The more organized you are the less likely surprises will cause you frazzle.
Practice self-care. Inevitably if you are a caregiver, you will feel waves of emotion, challenges in your duties, lack of focus, or wanting to quit the caregiving job you perhaps never wanted in the first place. Take time for yourself. And ask other family members to share some responsibilities, to spread out the numerous tasks one undertakes when caring for another.
Know that every day won’t be perfect or run according to plan. By keeping in communication with other family members and leadership at your workplace, you will be managing care for Uncle Joe in the best way possible. And that is all anyone can expect. You are valued. Take it one day at a time. Tomorrow is a new day.
Karen Casanovas, PCC, CPCC, is a restorative coach. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.