How to balance your career with the needs of an aging family member
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 numerous medications. He’s not safe on his own. What do you do?
Holding a job and caring for a frail or ill older family member at home can be a huge challenge as you attempt to balance competing demands on your time and energy. As our population ages, more families than ever are providing this care. According to studies, as many as 42 percent of working Americans — more than 54 million people — have provided eldercare in the last five years; 17 percent currently provide care. 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.
Current demographic trends make this issue even more urgent:
What kinds of care do family caregivers provide?
The types of care range from personal (bathing, dressing, help with toileting, feeding) to everyday tasks and activities (preparing meals, providing transportation, handling finances, managing medications, coordinating services, communicating with health care professionals). The average caregiver provides care for more than four years, with some care extending for decades. Few caregivers use paid help. Fully 76 percent of working caregivers rely only on their families and themselves. At times, caregiving can seem like a second job.
While families may undertake such care willingly and lovingly, there can be long-lasting consequences — both personal and financial — for working caregivers. These may include poorer health, increased stress, time lost from work, lower productivity, quitting a job to give care, lost employer paid health benefits and lower current and future earnings, including Social Security and pension income. 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 wage, Social Security income and pension income over a lifetime.
Keys to managing the balancing act: Evaluating needs, exploring options
To start, it’s important to evaluate your parent’s current living situation and assess how care needs can be met. Consider your parent’s safety, isolation, ability to be left alone, medical needs, and what help is available to handle basic daily activities.
Your challenge as a caregiver is to determine how best to utilize the time and energy you have available for caregiving in addition to meeting the demands of your job and family responsibilities. Everyone’s situation is different, and for many families, there’s no simple, single solution. 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.
In sorting out your family’s needs, it helps to:
How to locate community resources:
What employers can do:
A growing number of employers recognize caregiving as a workplace issue that affects everyone from CEOs to delivery staff. Larger corporations sometimes are able to offer support in ways smaller ones cannot, but there are actions that companies of any size can take to support employees who have caregiving responsibilities:
The Internet provides a wealth of medical and caregiving information available 24 hours a day on your computer, tablet or cell phone. Digital technology is also useful for ordering prescriptions, communicating with health care professionals, staying in contact with friends and family, scheduling home care, learning new skills through webinars, tracking movement, and even visually checking on loved ones during the day or providing surveillance of your parent’s home when you can’t be there.
Handling your stress:
Negotiating time off work, coping with tension-filled family dynamics and managing your own fears and concerns about your parent’s well-being all contribute to increased stress and potential burn-out.
It’s not selfish to say you need to care for you. 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 get a break from caregiving demands. Try to be flexible, accept that you may have to let go of some duties, and remember there will good days and bad days.
Family-friendly workplace policies coupled with your own proactive strategies for providing care can go a long way towards making your caregiving journey more doable and less stressful.
More Information & Resources
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
Provides information on how to choose an elder law attorney and referrals.
1577 Spring Hill Road, Suite 220
Vienna, VA 22182
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
3275 West Ina Road, Suite 130
Tucson, AZ 85741
Best Practices in Workplace Eldercare
National Alliance for Caregiving and ReACT (Respect a Caregiver’s Time). March 2012.
Long-Term Care Options Explored on PBS NewsHour:
- Why more seniors are going back to college — to retire
- Coping with Alzheimer’s: A mother and daughter portrait of long-term care
- Taking cues from ‘Golden Girls,’ more single baby boomers are building a future together
- There’s no place like home: seniors hold on to urban independence into old age
- Foster families find and share support with elders at Oregon housing community
- Increasing demand moves long-term care centers to cater to Latino elders
More Helpful Publications from Family Caregiver Alliance:
- Community Care Options
- Hiring In-Home Help
- Home Away from Home
- Legal Planning for Incapacity
- Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers
- Holding a Family Meeting
About Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving
785 Market Street, Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) offers an extensive online library of free educational materials for caregivers. The publications, webinars and videos offer families the kind of straightforward, practical help they need as they care for relatives with chronic or disabling health conditions.
Family Care Navigator is FCA’s online directory of resources for caregivers in all 50 states. It includes information on government health and disability programs, legal resources, disease-specific organizations and more.
Kathleen Kelly is the executive director of Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Center on Caregiving, based in San Francisco, Calif.