Whether your life changes seemingly overnight or you see the gradual decline and increasing needs of your loved one, you may be facing caregiving decisions. Will you hire a caregiver? Will family and friends share responsibilities? Or will the caregiving role land on your shoulders?
If you’re willing and able, you may consider retiring early to become a full-time caregiver. To help you weigh the impact of that decision, consider some pros and cons of retiring early to become a full-time caregiver, along with some advice from those in the trenches.
Pros of retiring to become a caregiver
The benefits of retiring early to become a full-time caregiver include everything from having more time making memories together to more time navigating the health care system with your loved one.
Meet Beth Schwartz. Nearly 10 years ago, her husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 sarcoma. Based on his “dismal” diagnosis, she made the decision to retire at 63.
“I was surprised that we could still make time to laugh!” she said. “By retiring early, I had the ability to accompany my husband on doctor visits and infusion appointments, work through all the paperwork with insurance and disability, arrange for second opinions, etc.”
Being your loved one’s primary caregiver allows you to help navigate the health care system and advocate on their behalf.
A recent survey showed that 60% of people continued to work while providing care for loved ones. Melanie Owens was one of them.
“I took care of my mom for over 10 years while working full-time but wasn’t in a position to retire,” she said.
Owens tackled the household chores, shopping, meal preparation and finances, staying with her mom on weekends and coordinating help from family and her mom’s friends on weekdays.
“Initially, there were a good number of helpers, but as the years passed, there were fewer as the helpers aged.”
Initially, there were a good number of helpers, but as the years passed, there were fewer as the helpers aged.
Retiring early to be a full-time caregiver doesn’t take away the stress of caregiving but reduces the day-to-day logistical concerns. For those times you need help or want to get away, Schwartz recommends resources such as CaringBridge.org and LotsaHelpingHands.com where you can easily keep everyone updated and ask for help.
“It’s amazing how much people will help when you’ve defined ‘the ask,’” she said.
Cons of retiring to become a caregiver
Your financial situation and health insurance coverage for in-home care may make your decision for you. While many opt to retire early or reduce their working hours, they take a financial hit doing so.
“The biggest obstacle – and it continues today, 10 years later – is financial,” Schwartz said. “Both our Social Security checks are significantly lower than they would have been if we had worked longer. Plus, our paychecks just…stopped. But the bills didn’t—and don’t! Apply for Social Security Disability for the patient ASAP!”
With early retirement, you’re tapping into retirement and savings accounts rather than contributing to them. Beyond the obvious financial concerns, consider the impact of taxes, inflation and other factors that may reduce your bottom line.
With that said, also factor in the cost of hiring someone to be a caregiver while you’re at work. If your loved one is Medicaid-eligible, an Armed Forces veteran or has long-term-care insurance, that someone might be you. You may be eligible to become a paid family caregiver, compensated at the market rate.
Health insurance considerations
Many people receive health insurance through their employers, but the cost of health insurance varies widely. The cost of a policy that allows you to keep your own doctors and has a smaller deductible may come as a shock. You’ll want to think carefully about retiring early if your loved one is covered under your employee health benefits.
“I retired knowing that there were exactly 18 months of COBRA coverage until Medicare kicked in for me,” Schwartz said. “Sign up for Medicare (for both people) as soon as you can, and work with a Medicare consultant (usually free) to get the best plan possible, especially for drug coverage. These give a caregiver some peace of mind and a little breathing room.”
The emotional toll
More than half of caregivers report a decline in their own health while caring for a loved one. The emotional price you pay may be compounded by leaving the normalcy of work. The psychological costs not often anticipated include:
- The loss of the sense of purpose you have through your career
- Distancing from work friends
- Feelings of isolation
Take care of the caregiver
You may decide to retire early to become a full-time caregiver as Schwartz did, or work full-time and provide care as Owens did, or scale back on work and share caregiving duties with family and hired caregivers as many others do.
No matter your path, taking care of yourself as a caregiver needs to be a priority. You can restore yourself by:
- Making time for activities you enjoy
- Seeking the emotional support you need through a friend, mentor, counselor or clergy
- Looking for resources specific to your loved one’s condition (Imerman’s Angels for those affected by cancer or the Alzheimer’s Association, for example)
- Asking for the help you need
“Taking care of someone is tough, any way you look at it. Your life is not your own,” Owens said. “Remember to take care of the caretaker.”