Lisa Cooper of AARP Michigan said it makes sense to expand state support for home-based care because studies show that it costs the same to care for one person in a nursing home as it does to care for three who live in their homes.
“We know that if a person needs supports and services, they overwhelmingly prefer to receive those in their homes. We can save taxpayer dollars,” Cooper said.
Respite care — a vital lifeline to caregivers who need a break — is available through nonprofit, government and private agencies, and comes in the form of in-home care or drop-off care at adult day centers.
Families who don’t qualify for Medicaid have the option of paying for respite care themselves. But at costs of about $30 an hour for in-home respite care and $100 a day at an adult care center, expenses mount quickly.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Julie Alicki, a licensed therapist who leads support groups for family caregivers in Kent County and former consultant on aging issues to the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan.
“But for someone providing care 24-7, especially for someone dealing with Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t touch what they need.”
Caregivers can also turn to community support groups that can be an emotional lifeline, including those for those dealing with family members with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Medicaid, the state-federal program that helps with costs for people with limited income and resources, pays for in-home care for recipients who meet its income guidelines and who would otherwise qualify for nursing home care.
In Michigan, a program called MI Choice provides home and community-based services for about 15,000 Medicaid beneficiaries each year. The program has a waiting list of 1,800.
Under its guidelines, a married partner of a spouse applying for Medicaid can retain assets excluding the primary residence of about $130,000.
AARP Michigan backs a proposal to add $6.3 million in state funds to the MI Choice program for the fiscal 2022 budget, which would add about 1,000 more slots.
Nicholas Ryan, a Grand Rapids attorney who specializes in elder law, said his firm often hears from clients desperate for help navigating the complexities of Medicaid funding formulas.
“We have clients coming in saying, ‘I’m running out of funds.’ They are at the burnout point, where they are burning the candle at both ends. The family picture I see the most is where adult children are taking care of a parent. The time they are taking for the parent is time they are not taking at work.
“They are literally doing this at the financial detriment of themselves.”
‘Why am I doing this?’
A state official also said many caregivers fail to reach out for help until they are desperate, either out of pride or because they don’t know where to look for assistance. AARP Michigan offers a detailed resource guide for family caregivers, listing a variety of state, local and nonprofit resources to support them.
“Making sure people are aware of the programs that can help is something we are forever working on,” said Lacey Charboneau, field services representative for the state Aging and Adults Services Agency.
The toll can be especially steep for 500,000 in Michigan who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
According to a national report on unpaid caregiving by the Alzheimer’s Association:
- Nearly 60 percent of caregivers rate the stress of caregiving as high or very high. Up to 40 percent report depression
- 16 percent took a leave of absence from work
- 9 percent quit work
Sitting in the dining room of her northern Kent County home, Debbie Burton said she barely considered bringing in outside help as she tended to her husband of 24 years, Jimmy, over the past four years.
“I was really the only person looking after him,” said Burton, 69.