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How to Care for an Aging Parent While Running a Business

Many small business owners have the responsibility of caring for an elderly parent while at the same time running a business. According to CaregiverAction, more than 65 million people in the U.S. are caregivers for elderly or ill relatives or friends (29% of the population), and 60% of these are employed (there are no statistics exclusively on small business owners who are caregivers).

Small business owners with caregiver responsibilities but without family members or other resources to fill the need face devastating consequences: ignore business to focus on caregiving, spend significant dollars to pay for professional caregivers, experience mental health issues (caregiver stress syndrome is a term used to describe the exhaustion, guilt, and other feelings of a caregiver, although the condition is not yet medically recognized), or have other dramatic results. What can you do?
See the future
Owners who may face eldercare responsibilities should plan for this eventuality as they would for any other business contingency.

  • Learn about eldercare programs, including adult day care and respite care, as well as caregiver support groups. Explore assisted living options for a parent before they become necessary. And while you're at it, make this information available to staff. This important resource can help cut down on costs related to employees involved in eldercare.
  • Develop backup. Just as an owner creates backup when going on vacation, devise plans that can be implemented if an owner needs time off for eldercare.
  • Have "the talk" with a parent, siblings, and others who will be involved in eldercare. Discover each person's expectations, abilities, and intentions. For example, an owner may have the impression that a sibling with a part-time job would be able to assume caregiver responsibilities when needed, but the sibling may be averse to such action.

Use long-term care insurance
When a parent requires nursing home care or around-the-clock in-home care, the process of obtaining the needed care can be daunting. Selecting the right kind of care and finding placement or in-home help can seem overwhelming.
Those who have long-term care insurance can simplify the process immeasurably, assuring needed care. For example, a policy may provide assistance to caregivers in finding day workers who can provide in-home care.

If parents do not have long-term care insurance and cannot afford to buy it themselves, owners can pay for this cost (of course this only works when parents are young and healthy enough to be insurable). The cost isn't cheap, but business owners should look at it as a cost of doing business.

While the cost of long-term care insurance for the owner is deductible (up to set dollar limits keyed to age), the cost of such coverage for a parent usually is not deductible by the owner even though the owner pays for it. The cost of the parent's coverage (again up to set limits) is deductible by the owner who pays for it only if the owner claims the parent as a dependent or pays more than half of the parent's support.

Eldercare isn't a subject that many folks want to talk about. For small business owners, however, it may be unavoidable when devising the best caregiving plans and to ensure continued business success.

Personal note
This article is based on one I wrote for my Big Ideas for Small Business[R] in 2006. At that time, eldercare was an abstract subject. Since then, it became personal. Despite being cognitively okay, in 2008 my mom needed 24/7 custodial care, which she received in her home for 5 and one-half years before her recent death at age 88. The cost of this care was astronomical (her long-term care policy ran for only two years). However, the care was wonderful. (My sister and I both lived too far from her to give personal care and she didn't want to relocate.) Through an agency, my mom had the same caregiver for all of this time. The agency was the employer and took care of all the payment details. As a business owner, using the agency was helpful in alleviating my concerns. And my mom lived her life the way she wanted.