Caring for an elderly loved one can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, but if you are unprepared and unsupported, the responsibility can be detrimental to your work-life balance. Currently 60% of the 44 million caregivers of older adults in the U.S. today are in paid employment and provide an average of 5 years of care.
Yet many feel marginalized, unable to express their concerns in the workplace. Caregivers are often afraid that co-workers and supervisors will not be able to empathize with their situations. Particularly when care demands increase, the unpredictability and the duration of the caregiver experience is accompanied by increased stress, distraction and anxiety over lost productivity.
Caregiving is Complex, Unique Journey
Like the aging process itself, caring for an elder is a complex, unique journey. Factors that influence the caregiver experience include the physical and emotional needs of the care recipient; his or her lifestyle preferences and financial resources; the availability of friends and family to help; the availability of community resources, such as senior centers, in-home care and nursing homes. Fortunately, there are many resources to provide you guidance along the way.
Resources to Help Guide You
To get started, assess your loved one’s situation, such as overall physical and mental health; medication use; daily living and grooming; mobility; home safety; social interaction; and finances, using checklists such as those found at www.aarp.org or www.caregiver.org.
Create an Action Plan
Then, create an action plan for care. Your plan might include meal delivery, transportation, home modifications, home health delivery, respite, adult day programs and alternative housing. Visit the Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov ) or regional Aging and Disability Resource Centers (www.adrc-tae.acl.gov) to find resources in your local area and combine them with help from family and friends. Use care calendars such as Lotsa Helping Hands (https://lotsahelpinghands.com/) to coordinate help. Moving to alternative housing takes considerable preparation, so plan ahead by reading A Guide for Making Housing Decisions for a discussion of the pros and cons of each option (available at www.eldercare.gov).
Signs of Caregiver Stress
Watch for your signs of stress. They include excessive worry; sleep deprivation; excessive use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs; poor diet; lack of exercise; postponement of personal self-care and medical examinations. If untreated, you may suffer from depression, exhaustion, chronic illnesses and increased absenteeism from work.
The Importance of Self Care
Routinely monitor your own health along the way (caregiver self-assessment tool available at www.caregiving.org) and actively seek out support for work-life balance. Utilize Family Medical Leave (FMLA), flexible work schedules, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), and caregiver groups to manage. Above all, ask for support. Understanding that you are not alone is one of the most profound ways to find balance during your unique journey. Check with your HR department, EAP, local senior citizens center (https://www.agingcare.com/local/area-agency-on-aging) and Hospice program (https://www.nhpco.org/find-hospice) for local caregiver support groups, and AARP (https://community.aarp.org/t5/Caregiving/bd-p/bf41) and National Family Caregiver Network (https://caregiveraction.org/forum) for online community groups.
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Robynn M. Pease, Ph.D. has over 20 years of related experience in the field of work-life and is the former director of the Greater Oregon Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (GO HERC). Prior to her current position as Faculty Ombudsman at Oregon State University (OSU), Robynn served as the Coordinator of Work-Life at OSU and the Director of Work-Life at the University of Kentucky. She holds a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Kentucky, with an emphasis in gerontology.