It’s no secret unpaid family caregivers are suffering. In fact, research shows the burden of care negatively impacts the social and physical well-being of caregivers. As people age, most of them will likely pass the weighty mantle of caregiving to a family member. Still, there are ways to lighten the load, and families should start planning for senior care sooner rather than later.

Unpaid Caregiving Takes a Toll

A recent report shows caregivers disproportionately suffer depression, stress, chronic disease, and financial hardship. There’s also evidence caregivers take less care of themselves, while another study points to lower exercise levels. Exercise might alleviate stress, if only caregivers had the time and energy.

Stress and poor self-care combine with social isolation in a vicious cycle, straining relationships between caregivers and seniors. Some employers have added caregiver paid leave to their benefits packages to help curb the burden. However, there is another option: transitioning care to an assisted living community. Research shows this transition improves social well-being, alleviates stress and improves diet and exercise for many family members of seniors who need care.

Caregivers Are Better off When Seniors Move to Assisted Living

According to a recent survey, three out of five family members who moved a senior loved one to assisted living said their overall quality of life improved after the transition. Additionally, 64 percent feel less stress about the senior after the move. Moving a senior to assisted living also gives many family members more time for self-care. A third report healthier diet and exercise, and a quarter found their social well-being improved. Perhaps less stress and isolation leads three out of five families to say their relationship with the senior also improved.

Caregivers may feel guilty for shifting their caregiving burden, but most seniors benefit from moving, too. In fact, 73 percent of families report that a senior loved one’s quality of life improved after moving to assisted living.

Planning for the Costs of Assisted Living

Moving to assisted living is a major financial decision. Median costs are nearly $4,000 per month, but those are comparable to paid home care services after accounting for home repair, utilities, food and other costs included in assisted living rent.

Families who won’t qualify for government long-term care benefits, don’t want to hire someone to help legally transfer assets to qualify for Medicaid and don’t want to risk their future financial well-being should start planning for the costs of long-term care now.

Planning for retirement can seem complicated, but Andy Smith — Certified Financial Planner practitioner and co-host of the personal finance talk show, Investing Sense — offers the following tips to get started:

1. Establish Goals

Families should talk to senior loved ones about what they want their life to look like five or even ten years from now. Where do they want to live? How will they respond to changes in health and abilities? Families should write these goals down and refer to them while building and updating a plan.

2. Build (or Update!) a Long-term Plan

Chances are the first version of a long-term plan doesn’t account for changes to a senior’s living situation. If families want their plan to succeed, they should account for those possibilities. Families should also consider changes to their financial situation, including: a different Social Security strategy; a new income distribution plan; potentially higher healthcare costs; and a change to investment risk tolerance as the senior ages.

3. Cut Expenses, Increase Income and Leverage Assets

Consider retiring in a less costly area. For example, seniors in the San Francisco Bay Area can save $8,000 per year in assisted living expenses by moving to Sacramento. Seniors in California can save $11,000 per year moving to Arizona. Be aware of tax implications when moving between states and strike a balance between savings and proximity to family.

Consider alternative sources of income. If finances are tight, consider how to leverage current investments or pool family resources. There is also a range of financing options many families use, including long-term care insurance, Veterans Affairs benefits, selling life insurance policies or reverse mortgages.

Be careful with long-term care insurance and reverse mortgages. Some experts warn long-term care insurance may not be the right option depending on your financial situation. Likewise with reverse mortgages: these instruments are rarely the best option for most families, especially if homeowners plan to move permanently out of the home.

Get the most for your home. For seniors currently looking for assisted living, now is a great time to sell a home. Although the market is settling down, many areas still show low inventory and strong job growth leading to rapid appreciation and high prices.

4. Get professional help if possible

Building a sound retirement plan that accounts for changing living arrangements can be complicated. A fiduciary advisor is a professional who is legally obligated to put the family’s interests first as they help build a long-term plan.

The Takeaway

Research shows quality of life improves for both caregivers and seniors after a transition to an assisted living community. When families are proactive in creating a long-term financial plan for their senior loved ones, they set themselves up for success for when the senior requires additional care. Early planning could potentially improve a family caregiver’s social and physical well-being as well as their relationship with their senior loved ones.


Read a technical report of A Place for Mom’s Family Quality of Life study here.


Ben Hanowell | Lead Senior Living Researcher | A Place for Mom

Andy Smith | Certified Financial Planner practitioner and co-host | Investing Sense

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