Inexpensive Ways to Make Caregiving Easier

caregiver savings

Caregiving is a labor of love. Many family caregivers are unpaid, devoting their time and energy – and yes, sometimes, their money – to taking care of those they love. That might mean that they wind up working fewer hours outside the home, taking extended time off from paid positions, or otherwise taking a financial hit. Finding affordable ways to ease the caregiving burden can help make overall day-to-day living easier for everyone.

What’s the Cost of Caring for Seniors?

It’s difficult to put a monetary amount on caregiving, as there are so many factors that play into it; however, the AARP has done a good job of trying. Nearly 8 in 10 family caregivers in their 2021 survey said they paid out-of-pocket for taking care of their loved ones, which came to $7,242 on average. The study found that family caregivers for the elderly spend about 26% of their income taking care of a loved one. About 21% financed aging in place solutions, while many others covered rent, medical care, and more[1].

Caregiving can affect how someone moves up the professional ladder as well. About one-third of respondents to the AARP survey found that they had to change their schedule or take leave from work to care for someone. This might be part of the reason about half of family caregivers have suffered financial setbacks.

But the financial cost is not the only toll. A study in the National Library of Medicine found that caregivers experienced high levels of physical stress and discomfort. The study found that over four weeks, 94% of caregivers experienced pain in at least one part of their body, with 76% reporting pain in their lower back. Most of that pain resulted from helping loved ones with transfers, toileting, bathing, navigating stairs, and recovering from falls. More than 78% said the pain hindered their ability to care for their loved one, and 66% said it affected their own quality of life[2].

Amy Darragh, an occupational therapist who helped conduct the study, told Social Work Today, “Interestingly, professional caregivers report similar experiences, but they have access to both training and technology that help them reduce their risk of injury. Informal caregivers may not receive training in how to handle patients without injuring themselves or their loved one.”[3]

How to Make Caregiving Easier

There are several caregiving tips you can use around the house to help make your job easier. Here are just a few that work well for streamlining your processes and keeping the house safe or more accessible to not just you, but your loved ones as well.

In the Bathroom:

·         Use a shower or bath dispenser. Rather than deal with a variety of bottles sitting on shelves, consider a shower dispenser that releases shampoo, conditioner, and body wash at the touch of a button.

·         Use seat lifters. Attach a seat to the toilet that is four inches tall or so; this inexpensive device can help you a great deal if your loved one has trouble rising from a sitting position on their own.

·         Install toilet rails. These inexpensive but sturdy rails can help someone stand up from the toilet and lower the risk of injury. Depending upon the configuration of your bathroom, grab bars might work better.

·         Long-handled brushes. Brushes with long handles can help someone groom their own hair, while long-handled foam pads can be great for applying lotion or medications in hard-to-reach areas.

·         Get a medical alert. A medical alert with fall detection is a must for those who are still independent enough to bathe themselves in the tub or shower, but it’s also good for anyone who might be at risk for falling while in the bathroom.

In the Kitchen:

·         Use small adhesive hooks as knobs. Small plastic hooks are quite sturdy, but can be easily removed without damaging the surface they were applied to. Remove the small knobs and pulls on kitchen cabinets and replace them with plastic hooks to make it easier for those with arthritis and other limited mobility issues to open the doors and drawers with ease.

·         Use chip bag clips to hold recipes. Inexpensive chip bag clips can be hung up on kitchen cabinets and used to clip tightly onto a recipe printed on paper. This keeps the recipe at eye level and doesn’t require you to look for it among the supplies on the counter. As a bonus, it eliminates the need for a heavy cookbook.

·         Meal prep is your friend. When you have some downtime, chop vegetables and handle other meal prep for the week ahead. This can slash the time it takes to cook a meal from scratch. If you are working outside of the home, you can prep salads or other simple lunches for the entire week, and put them in individual containers in the refrigerator to save time.

·         Choose finger foods. If your loved one has no problem with chewing and swallowing, start moving toward finger foods on nights when you simply don’t have much time. These easy-to-heat foods, like chicken nuggets or mozzarella sticks, can be popped into the oven while you do other things.

·         Take a picture of your pantry and fridge before shopping. Even if you make a list, sometimes you stumble upon a deal that makes you wonder if you have enough of that item at home. Remedy the issue and save your sanity by using your phone to take a picture of your pantry shelves and your fridge and/or freezer before you leave for the store.

·         Invest in a crockpot. Simply load the ingredients into the crockpot and go about your day. This means little hands-on work for you to get dinner on the table, freeing you up for other things.

In the Bedroom:

·         Lower closet bars to make it easier to reach clothing. Many closets require you to reach up to pull something off the bar; that can be difficult for those who have trouble raising their arms. Lowering the bar by several inches can remedy that problem.

·         Take care with the clothing you buy. Look for clothing that is easy to put on, such as those that close with Velcro or wrap around the body and tie in an attractive manner. This can help keep your loved one independent for longer.

·         Add easy-to-use fabric loops to zippers. Zippers can be tough for even the most nimble of us. Make it easier by adding fabric loops to zipper pulls. Make sure the loop is broad and sturdy for easy pulling.

·         Make a button-hole helper. If your loved one has trouble with buttons, create a button-hole helper with a paperclip and a piece of yarn. Simply open up the paperclip so it is a small hook. Attach a loop of yarn to the other end. The paperclip goes around the button and the thread pulls the button through the hole.

·         Invest in cheap nightlights. A light-sensing nightlight – one that comes on in the darkness and turns off when the room is brighter – is a great option for ensuring that you can always see in the dark. This can help mitigate fall risk at night.

·         Use Velcro for keeping small items handy. For instance, Velcro on the remote control for the television can keep it on the bedside table when not in use and makes it almost impossible to knock off onto the floor.

In the Overall Home:

·         Lazy Susans aren’t just for the kitchen. Though lazy susans are well-known for their uses in the kitchen, consider what a help they can be in the bathroom or even on a cocktail table. Look for a sturdy lazy susan that will hold a good deal of weight and stay steady while spinning.

·         Use a tackle box as a portable medicine cabinet. Someone with a chronic illness can wind up with numerous medications, and it can be tough to keep them all straight. An old-fashioned tackle box is a good answer. It’s cheaper than a dedicated portable medication cabinet and offers a multitude of small compartments to hold medications.

·         Use glow in the dark tape. To lessen fall risk, make sure no one has to search for a light switch. Glow in the dark tape, used on the light switch itself and to create a square on the wall around it, can make it easy to find that switch and turn it on without fumbling around the room.

·         Apply no-slip paint or use no-skid adhesive strips. If you have a floor that gets slippery, such as out in the garage, consider applying no-slip paint. In the house, use no-skid adhesive strips in hallways and other areas that need a bit more grip.

·         Use popsicle sticks to elongate handles. Using rubber bands, attach popsicle sticks to forks, spoons, and other items with a short handle. This makes them easier to grasp.

·         Use risers for sofas, chairs, and beds. If you have a bed or seating area that is tough to get out of due to lack of height, use risers under each leg to lift the furniture by four or five inches. This can be enough to make standing up much easier.

·         Make use of rubber bands. Wrap rubber bands around anything that might need more grip, such as a glass tumbler or the handle of a cane.

·         Tennis balls can protect your floors. The front legs of a walker can be tough on floors. Cut open a tennis ball to fit it around the base and protect your hardwood. You can also use tennis balls under furniture that might get bumped, such as the kitchen table.

·         Use motion sensing doorbells. When a door is opened, the doorbell sounds, which alerts you to a wandering person who is trying to go outside. This can provide a strong layer of protection; an on-the-go medical alert technology with GPS is another layer to that protection if you have a loved one who might wander, like many with Alzheimer’s and dementia do.

·         Keep a bag ready. Keep a small backpack near the door that is filled with essentials. This can include everything from lotion to bottles of water to medications. When it’s time to leave the house, just grab the bag and go. Check it every time you come back home to replenish it for the next trip.

·         Create labels. Those with cognitive issues might have trouble remembering where things go or even what things are. Labeling items with very clear, easy words can help. You can also use photos instead of words to convey what’s inside something, such as forks and spoons on a utensil drawer.

·         Use a central calendar. Hang a large desk calendar on the wall where everyone in the home can see it. Write down appointments and reminders here.

Other Options to Make the Caregiving Life Easier

These are low-cost “hacks” that can make caregiving easier. But what if you need something more? There are options for that too.

·         Hire a professional caregiver. Hiring someone to come in to help you on certain days or during certain times, such as for help with bathing, can save you some stress. If you hire someone on your own, you can save up to 30% over the cost of going through an agency[4].

·         Get an emergency button alarm. A medical alert pendant, bracelet, or watch can provide peace of mind for a very small monthly fee. The alert button connects to a 24/7/365 monitoring station. If you can’t always be with your loved one, you can be rest assured that help for your loved one is a single touch away.

·         Sign up for Meals on Wheels. Food service programs can help take the burden away from the family caregiver when it comes to lunch or other meals. These services are often entirely free and in communities all across the nation.

·         Ask about tax credits. Do you name your senior loved one as a dependent? Do you have caregiving expenses? You might be eligible for tax credits or deductions that can lower your tax bill. If you’re not sure, get in touch with your local senior center to find an IRS-certified volunteer to help you at no cost.

·         Get help with aging in place home modifications. Many organizations are willing to help pay for home modifications to keep seniors safe, such as building ramps or installing handrails and grab bars.

·         Get assistance with utilities. Low-income seniors can qualify for assistance like LIHEAP, which helps cover heating. This map can get you started.

·         Weatherize the home. This can also help cut down on utility bills, and fortunately, there is a government program that can help.

·         Consider adult day care. Some community centers offer programs for adult day care. This can give your loved one some time with peers and to enjoy fun activities outside of the home while providing you with some down time.

·         Turn to respite care. Free or low-cost respite programs can provide you with several hours in which to run errands or simply take care of yourself for a while. Some programs, such as the National Family Caregiver Support Respite, also offer counseling and other assistance.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your loved one is to get trained to help them. The American Red Cross offers caregiving classes, and you can also find these classes through community centers, hospitals, senior centers, and more. The more you know about how to help your loved one on a physical level, the less stress and injury you might experience, and the happier everyone will be.