Paying for services can take a toll on a caregiver’s finances

Not only has the family’s grocery bill gone up since Joy Goodnough started taking care of her 68-year-old mother who has cancer, but the responsibilities of caregiving also cost her job due to missing too many days from work.

“My mother fell and broke her hip. And while we were at the hospital, she got a cancer diagnosis along with it. There were a lot of changes all at once,” said Goodnough, 48, of suburban Pittsburgh. “It has been a financial burden taking care of my mother.

“But I really wouldn’t change anything. We want to be with her as long as we can.”

Caring for aging loved ones can involve a lot of sacrifice, but the extent to which many family caregivers are paying for goods and services on behalf of the person they are helping can be devastating to a caregiver’s finances.

The country’s estimated 40 million unpaid family caregivers are spending an average $6,954 a year of their own money toward the care of loved ones, according to a 2016 report by AARP.

“When you step into a caregiver’s role, you will undoubtedly incur expenses you did not have before,” said Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights at Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America in Minneapolis. “More and more baby boomers are finding themselves in that role.”

A recent study by Allianz Life found the costs to caregivers is made worse when the elder they are caring for has been a victim of financial abuse.

Allianz Life found that while elder financial abuse and scams is a growing problem, one aspect of the issue that tends to get less attention is the devastating effect on the finances of the caregiver.

When elders are short on funds – either because they’ve been taken advantage of financially or cannot keep up with their living expenses – caregivers find themselves footing the bill for rent, medicine, groceries and other costs.

The study found nearly 90 percent of both active and potential caregivers said they experienced a financial impact when their elder was financially abused, with the average cost to those caregivers reaching a staggering $36,000.

“All of a sudden, caregivers could be responsible for covering fraud if someone gets a hold of an elderly person’s checking account or credit card,” Libbe said, adding that older people also are vulnerable to scams, such as fraudulent phone calls demanding money for back taxes from someone pretending to be with the Internal Revenue Service.

Lisa Story, director of the Pittsburgh-area support group Hope Grows for Caregiver Support, said her organization focuses on caring for caregivers. They provide mental health counseling, education and therapeutic breaks each month from the daily stress.

“Our caregivers open up and tell their stories,” she said. “They report their family members being taken advantage of, and when that happens there is a financial burden that falls on the caregiver. Some of the caregivers we speak with have told us of elderly parents who also have been taken advantage of when it was time to sell real estate or pay for services.”

Pennsylvania officials recently announced the creation of an information exchange and clearinghouse called PA $AFE that will pull together several different state agencies working together to protect older Pennsylvanians from financial scams and fraud.

Through the program, accountants, doctors, lawyers and investment professionals are learning to identify signs of elder financial abuse, as well as how to report and prevent it.

“Elder financial abuse is one of the most significant financial crimes of the 21st century, and it is estimated to cost older Americans $36 billion each year,” said Robin Wiessmann, secretary of the state Department of Banking and Securities at an event announcing the program.