Alzheimer’s is a ‘lonely,’ costly journey but tax credit proposal could help, caregiver says

Wisconsin has nearly 600,000 family caregivers
Alzheimer’s is a ‘lonely,’ costly journey but tax credit proposal could help, caregiver says

Stefanie O’Keefe’s life has changed “leaps and bounds” since becoming a caregiver to her mother.

“You can’t just go out to dinner or go take your kid to the museum for a day on the weekend. It’s not really possible to do the things that normal families do,” O’Keefe said.

In 2013, her mom was only 58 years old when she was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy, a form of dementia that is usually considered a variant of Alzheimer’s disease.

Family caregivers are Wisconsin’s unsung heroes, performing tasks that allow their loved ones to remain living in their homes as long as possible. Today the Credit For Caring Act was introduced to provide some financial help for these caregivers.

— AARP Wisconsin (@aarpwi) February 19, 2019

“My mom was my best friend, and I used to call her every day and talk. We have gotten to the point where she doesn’t know who I am,” she said.

In 2015, O’Keefe and her husband moved into her parents’ house. Between O’Keefe and her father, they now care for her mom 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Alzheimer’s is such a lonely journey. You really find out that family and friends don’t support you as much as you’d hoped and wished that they would,” she explained.

Caregiving also causes a financial strain on families, but she is hoping a new bipartisan bill at the state Capitol could help ease some of that burden on the state’s 578,000 family caregivers.

The Credit for Caring Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Testin, Sen. Bob Wirch, Rep. Ken Skowronski and Rep. Deb Kolste, would create a $1,000 nonrefundable individual income tax credit for people who serve as caregivers for a family member who is 18 years or older. To qualify, an individual caregiver must make less than $75,000 annually, and a couple must make less than $150,000.

The bipartisan plan is backed by groups like AARP-Wisconsin, the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“The caregiver tax credit is a really important recognition of the cost savings that family caregivers provide to the state of Wisconsin. Not everyone knows that Alzheimer’s is actually the most expensive disease to care for,” said Kari Paterson, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of South Central Wisconsin.

She explained that caregivers save the state money because it means they don’t need to have nursing home placements or 24/7 home care services.

According to the AARP, caregivers provide 538 million hours of care to their parents, spouses or loved ones, and spend an average of $7,000 each year in out-of-pocket costs.

O’Keefe said even a $1,000 tax credit could make a “huge difference” for her family.

“My dad had to retire early, I had to quit my full-time job, and we live with four adults and one child on one person’s salary,” she said.

A similar bill was introduced last legislative session, but it did not pass. The measure’s authors said the high cost was a factor. It was estimated to cost $173 million annually.

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