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Time Lost in the Workplace Due to Eldercare Issues

by Sara Shelton on January 30, 2014

As an eldercare consultant, the majority of my time is spent supporting the adult children of seniors who are in the midst of late-life transition. I have recently noticed that my clients are increasingly requesting meetings during evenings and weekends after they’ve finished their typical workday. While I can certainly accommodate my clients in these ‘after-hours’ meetings, the day-to-day challenges associated with providing eldercare are very rarely events that you pencil in on your weekly calendar. Several weeks ago, one of my clients missed out on taking her boys to a Macklemore concert due to one of many recent ER visits with her dad. Instead, the two of us sat drinking ice water out of paper cups and witnessing multiple overdose victims come and go while waiting for a bed to open up. While missing a Macklemore concert with your sons is majorly disappointing, these types of unscheduled emergencies also wreak havoc on an employee’s work life.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, nearly seven in ten (68 percent) caregivers report making work accommodations due to caregiving responsibilities. These adjustments include arriving late/leaving early or taking time off, cutting back on work hours, changing jobs, or stopping work entirely (2009). The majority of my clients are making these accommodations to provide hands-on care when necessary, tour various care settings with me, attend surgeries and resulting care conferences, and fill in the gaps for other family caregivers. The stress and anxiety over this time lost are palpable as tours are cut short, phone calls are interrupted by co-workers, and PTO hours are quickly used up on things far less enjoyable than a beach vacation. As an increasing number of adult children begin taking on caregiving responsibilities for aging loved ones, employers will need to be creative in maintaining the productivity of their employees without asking them to sacrifice their family commitments.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs), which originally launched in the 1970s to address rampant substance abuse problems, have expanded to include support services for eldercare. However, the provision of this support is typically outsourced to national organizations that provide phone counseling and may direct employees to local resources. This approach to resolving eldercare-related challenges is problematic for two reasons. 1) A national organization will typically rely upon a referral-based model, whereby local providers pay a fee for ‘leads’ they receive without being thoroughly screened for the quality of their services. 2) Eldercare is extremely dynamic and a family’s needs may change from day to day, hour to hour; therefore having a phone number to call 24/7 doesn’t necessarily translate to the type of assistance that’s required to control absenteeism, workday distractions, and reduced productivity.

In the future or better yet, ASAP, employers will need to offer comprehensive eldercare benefit programs that will both reduce time lost in the workplace and support the health of employees faced with stressful caregiving duties. With higher healthcare costs on average, these employees will benefit further from flexible work options, family leave, paid sick days and other progressive programs related to eldercare. For instance, with the diversification of long-term care insurance policies, perhaps companies will offer coverage of premiums for employee family members. Just as some companies provide on-site day care for children, perhaps we’ll see the emergence of companies offering on-site senior care. The opportunities for supporting families faced with eldercare-related challenges are many and it’s time for employers to be strategically proactive in addressing a growing workplace concern.

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Down and out with a miserable cold yesterday, I happened on to an episode of Katie Couric’s talk show about the increasing number of couples who are choosing not to have children. As a single woman in my late thirties, the topic interests me regardless but it prompted me to think about how this trend will impact eldercare in the future. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, we’re not necessarily natural born caregivers yet, as of today, much of the eldercare responsibilities are managed directly or indirectly by adult children. For those who don’t have children, either by choice or by circumstance, what can they anticipate with regard to receiving appropriate care in older age?

As I have many childless friends, I’ve had several conversations about this topic in recent years. One particular friend suggested buying a fabulous beach house in Hawaii to share with several girlfriends and care would be provided for everyone by ‘hot pool boys’. The idea evokes visions of older women lounging around the pool with their walkers within reaching distance, sipping cocktails and beckoning said ‘hot pool boys’ when care needs arise. My parents once lived in a cul-de-sac with neighbors of similar ages and they joked that, when they’re older, they would remodel a shared barn-like structure for me to live in and I would function as their neighborhood gerontologist. While these ideas were shared partly in jest, they bring up a valid concept, which is co-housing and shared caregivers.

Co-housing certainly isn’t a new idea as senior living communities have been around for several decades, providing comfortable and, often, more financially reasonable alternatives to nursing homes. However, most seniors prefer to stay in their home for as long as possible; therefore the average age of move-in to senior living communities is currently 85 years old. The alternative to making a move is arranging for home care, which is increasingly becoming the preferred source of eldercare, particularly among Baby Boomers. I foresee future generations co-habiting in purposeful neighborhoods, sharing caregivers and other service providers such as landscaping and maintenance workers. Either way, in most cases, adult children play a pivotal role in facilitating these transitions, either by supporting their aging loved ones in their decisions about care or by activating their power of attorney when cognitive impairment is part of the equation. Without adult children to reply upon, how will childless seniors make the shift to receiving eldercare services?

The key, pure and simple, will be planning ahead in various ways. Eldercare is incredibly expensive and the first priority should be investing in either long-term care insurance or some other viable plan that will ensure the availability of private-pay funds when the time comes. This should be a priority regardless of whether one has children but without the support of adult children, care may be needed sooner than later. Planning ahead also involves surrounding yourself with friends and family members of all ages, which will likely lead to long-standing relationships to serve you in your older age. With the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia expected to sky-rocket in future decades, it’s imperative to have a power of attorney arranged with a trusted friend or relative. Just as we say that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, it will certainly take a village to ensure that older adults receive the highest level of compassionate care regardless of whether they have raised children of their own.

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The Relevance of Cultural Diversity in Eldercare

January 8, 2014

A recent article in the Seattle Times entitled ‘Alzheimer’s Patients Find Care Far Away’ prompted me to think about the role of cultural diversity in our own country’s delivery of eldercare. The article discusses a growing trend of seeking Alzheimer’s care in nations such as Thailand, where care is much less expensive and highly individualized. [...]

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My Judi Dench

January 2, 2014

Just as you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, it may not be PC to have a favorite client but sometimes there’s this undeniably special connection that develops in working closely with a family. I met the Jacobson family in early 2012 while Bobby and Dodie were still living in their own home on [...]

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Beware of the Chandelier Effect

December 27, 2012

Red flags first began flying when I spoke with my client’s daughter-in-law (Beth*) by phone, and she stated that 95% of the time, when they visit (Anne*), she’s in bed nearly naked and often in soiled sheets.  When she mentioned the name of the memory care community that Anne has been living at for the [...]

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Let the Holidays (and a little sleuthing) Begin!

November 20, 2012

With the holiday season upon us, it’s a special time to gather and enjoy (or simply endure) the company of family and friends with whom memories have been made over the years.  In our family, we reminisce about Grandma Vivi’s delicious, marshmallow-y sweet potatoes spilling in the trunk of my uncle’s car EVERY year on [...]

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Senior Drivers: How Old is Too Old?

October 26, 2012

NBC Nightly News recently featured a news story touching on the sensitive subject of senior drivers.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced the frustration of driving behind a seemingly reckless driver only to carefully pass them and realize that they’re surely in their 80s or 90s. We’ve also seen news stories covering horrific accidents caused by [...]

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Medicare: The Presidential Candidates’ Plans for its Future

October 9, 2012

The future of Medicare is one of the hot topics being discussed by Democratic nominee and current President, Barack Obama, and the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.  As a society, I think we can all agree that the program requires an overhaul due to the demographic shift that has occurred since its inception in 1965. Particularly [...]

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Addressing Dementia in Mainstream Media

September 25, 2012

As I mentioned in my initial blog post, it seems that our society has yet to fully recognize the implications of our aging Baby Boomer population.  Since I happen to be passionate about the topic, I get downright gleeful when I see relevant news stories and articles on major news channels and in mainstream publications. [...]

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Popper’s Transformation

September 21, 2012

Just one week shy of his 96th birthday, my grandfather (whom we called Popper) passed away this past May. As I write this post, I am looking at a card that my mom made for the attendees of his memorial service; it’s a picture of him smiling as he works on an oil painting. To [...]

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