Your boss has asked you to stay a couple of hours late to finish a project. In years past, this was not a problem — you stayed to help out. But now your 84-year-old father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, has moved in with you. He needs help preparing dinner and managing his medications. He’s not safe on his own. What do you do?
The average age of caregivers is 49 — a peak year for earnings and for career achievement. Women take on slightly more responsibility for care, but men are greatly impacted, as well.
Several demograhic trends make it even more urgent that caregivers and employers find ways to balance family and work responsibilities:
- The massive boomer generation is at caregiving age, and soon many will need care themselves
- We’re living longer, resulting in more debilitating, age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes and stroke
- Hospital stays are shorter, so more care is needed at home
- Women, traditionally caregivers for children and the elderly, are now often in the workforce and less available to provide full-time care
- Work disruptions due to employee caregiving responsibilities result in productivity losses to businesses of an estimated $2,110 per year per employee — up to $33.6 billion per year for full-time employees as a group
How Families Help
Eventually, 10 percent of caregivers report quitting their jobs to provide care full-time, resulting in an average loss of more than $303,880 each in wages, Social Security income and pension income over a lifetime.
Instead, they create an intricate patchwork of services and assistance. Be aware that care needs will change, so different solutions may be needed in the future.
Here are six things you can do to assess and address your caregiving needs:
2. Make a second list of what you might be able to delegate to others and the times you need help.
3. Determine whether the care can be delivered at home, a senior center, an adult day care center or another location.
4. Determine how much money your parent or your family can afford to pay for outside help.
5. Explore services and care options in your community or near your parent’s home. Ask friends and neighbors about local services and care providers.
6. Be willing to ask for help, and seek counseling from community organizations that offer advice for caregivers.
Where To Go for Help
Caregivers seeking ways to better balance work and care, can consult these resources:
- Information and referral services These are generally free and maintained by senior, community or government organizations, to help you locate local programs and services. Some employers also offer information through Employee Assistance Programs.
- The internet It provides resource listings and online support groups where you can seek information. Family Caregiver Alliance’s (FCA) online Family Care Navigator offers information on public resources for every state. The U.S. Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator provides information on Area Agencies on Aging and other services.
- Informal arrangements There may be chores that can be done by friends, family, neighbors or faith group members.
- A family meeting It can be helpful to get siblings and other relatives together and identify needs, discuss medical legal and financial issues, share concerns and delegate tasks.
- Adult day centers Many working caregivers find adult day centers to be life-savers. The centers provide social and therapeutic activities for older adults and adults with disabilities in a safe, supportive environment. Some offer transportation, meals, personal care, and medical or allied health care. Participants attend several hours per day, up to five days a week, making it possible for you, as caregiver, to go to work assured that your parent is in a safe place.
- In-home care This can be formal (paid) through a home care agency or a privately hired aide, or informal (unpaid) — a friend, family member or volunteer.
- Other community resources Services include geriatric care managers, home-delivered meals, transportation, temporary overnight care, and support groups. An FCA fact sheet on Community Care Options offers more information.
(MORE: The Real Reason Caregives are Stressed)
What Employers Can Do
- The most requested adjustment is flexibility in work hours. This may include allowing a change in hours; a compressed work schedule; a part-time schedule; job sharing; telecommuting or a limit on mandatory overtime. Studies show that flexible scheduling improves job performance, decreases tardiness and employee turnover and increases job satisfaction and retention (even for employees are who are not currently caregivers).
- Companies with 50 or more employees must comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (or 26 weeks to care for an active service member). The leave may be used to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse or child. Job and health insurance are protected. However, approximately half of U.S. companies have fewer than 50 employees and are exempt from FMLA requirements. Nonetheless, many use FMLA guidelines to provide support for individual employees.
- Paid Family Leave is a mandated benefit that covers caregivers of a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or registered domestic partner, as well as new parents. Only a handful of states currently offer paid family leave.
- Knowledgeable HR or Employee Assistance Program staff can provide information on helpful Internet sites, local services, care managers, and company leave policies.
- Various state regulations and certain sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit employers from discriminating against caregiving employees (for example, passing over employees for promotion or stereotyping employees because of caregiving status).
- Company-sponsored training for supervisors enhances understanding of the conflicting demands of work and caregiving and ensures that mandates for family leave and antidiscrimination regulations are met.
- Some larger employers offer “cafeteria style” employee benefits that allow employees to select supplemental dependent care coverage to partially reimburse costs for in-home care or adult day care. A few companies offer subsidized payments for geriatric care managers.
- Sometimes, larger businesses organize in-house caregiver support groups, informational “brown-bag” lunch sessions or offer access to outside support groups.
- Some employers arrange group purchase of long-term care insurance for employees, spouses and dependents.
Make Use of Technology
Utilize local services. Say "yes" to offers of help. Join a support group if you want to talk about your situation with others — there are even groups online. If feasible, talk to your employer about making adjustments in your work hours.
Do what you can to stay healthy: eat well, try to get some exercise (walking is a great stress-reliever!). Get some sleep if you can. Seek respite (substitute care), so you can get a break from caregiving demands. Try to be flexible, accept that you may have to let go of some duties and remember that there will good days and bad days.
These resources can provide more information and support for family caregivers:
Kathy Kelly is the Executive Director of Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Center on Caregiving, based in San Francisco, Calif.
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