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New research uncovers a number of surprising insights into the emotional and financial implications of delivering care to an elderly relative or friend. First released in 2015, the C.A.R.E  (Costs, Accountabilities, Realities, Expectations) Study draws from the perspectives of experienced (past and current) as well as future caregivers to explore the expectations and realities of caregiving.

The 2017 C.A.R.E. Study reveals that, despite recognizing the financial and lifestyle complexities of providing care to an elderly relative or friend, many Americans are not taking proactive steps to mitigate the impact on their budgets, careers and/or personal lives. According to the study, 4 in 10 Americans are current or past caregivers, while 1 in 5 non-caregivers expect to step into this role in the future.

It’s not about the money. Or is it?

Although both experienced and future caregivers tend to underestimate the significance of financial support, with three quarters citing non-financial support (emotional and personal care) as what defines caregiving, current findings suggest a disconnect between perception and the reality of the situation:

  • Though only one quarter of experienced caregivers said financial support is a key attribute of caregiving, nearly two thirds (64%) actually ended up providing it. In fact, expenses comprised roughly one third of current caregivers’ monthly budget
  • 7 in 10 future caregivers expect to incur costs, yet 60% say they are least equipped to handle the financial aspects of caregiving
  • When asked what part of life caregiving impacts the most, half (51%) of future caregivers flagged finances second to only personal time

Among those caregivers who incurred added expenses, half (51%) said they reduced discretionary living expenses, while more than a quarter (28%) increased work hours to assist with the added financial demands.

Notably, future caregivers who expect to accrue financial costs anticipate even more pervasive lifestyle changes. A full three quarters (76%) believe they will need to reduce living expenses while half (49%) foresee working more. Despite recognizing the potential burden, 1 in 3 have taken no steps to plan.

Financial and lifestyle costs offset by emotional rewards

The consequences of caregiving extend beyond financial pressure. The C.A.R.E. Study also found that:

  • 86% of experienced caregivers saw impact on their lifestyle and even more future caregivers expect the same (97%)
  • 1 in 10 experienced caregivers mentioned having had to resign their jobs or change careers
  • More than half (54%) of experienced caregivers said caregiving impacted their personal time and 39% noted an impact on their emotional well-being
  • 44% felt tired and 37% felt sadness all the time or often

Despite the emotional and professional toll, caregivers find their experience gratifying.  Nearly 7 in 10 say they are proud of doing the right thing and 60% feel a sense of accomplishment all the time or often.

Silence is not golden

When considering their own longevity, Americans were most likely to fear poor health (27%) and being a burden to their families (26%). Moreover, while most expect their spouse/partner (48%) or children (28%) to be their caregivers, two thirds haven’t addressed their preferences with these family members – or anyone else. In fact, a staggering 7 in 10 (69%) have not proactively planned for their own long term care needs in any way.

To learn more, visit Northwestern Mutual’s lifespan calculator and LTC cost of care calculator. 

About the Research

The 2017 Northwestern Mutual C.A.R.E. Study explores the multiple facets of caregiving and longevity risk. This study was conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Northwestern Mutual and included 1,003 American adults aged 18 or older from the general population, and achieved an oversample of 292 American adults age 35-50 (for a total of 502) and an oversample of 649 experienced caregivers (for a total of 1014) who participated in an online survey between November 11 and November 28, 2016. Results were weighted to Census targets for education, age/gender, race/ethnicity, region and household income. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.

Read the news release

Download the 2017 CARE Study