It’s Time we Celebrated the Compassion of the Caregiver

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Boston and was fortunate to spend some time with my friend and industry colleague, Alexandra Drane. In addition to running a successful company she founded, Alex is tireless in her pursuit to improve people’s health and lives. She is relentless in raising awareness and getting people to speak publicly about issues that don’t typically get much attention.

As I shared my recent experiences with caregiving, Alex did what she does best, she pushed and pushed and told me to write about my experiences. As anyone does with Alex, you comply. She’s just that persuasive.

I’m not alone in my caregiving predicament. There are more than 65 million of us – one in six working Americans is helping to care for another adult, whether it’s a parent, friend, or other family member. The strain of this on our economy and psyche is undeniable.

Eighteen months ago I jumped head first into the role of caregiver for my now 81-year-old mother who lives in another state. My experience over the last year has led to frustration, shock and amazement and has opened my eyes to the world of the elderly.

I met seemingly insurmountable obstacles just to keep the utilities on. I encountered companies who blatantly upsold services that were clearly unnecessary. 

I’ve been shocked to see how a person who loved to socialize has lost interest in playing cards with the Red Hats or seeing her great grandchildren. I’ve learned it takes a village to care for my mother and each participant makes unbelievable sacrifices spending countless hours away from their own families to ensure my mother’s safety, comfort, and security. 

Our family has been helped by some wonderful caregivers from SeniorBridge, which, in full disclosure, is part of my company. These individuals help not just the loved one, but also the family, to understand what’s happening and how we can best manage caregiving. They’re helping us get through this trying time. Some members of my family, my nephew and sister who live much closer, spend countless hours ensuring my mother’s health and safety. I’m lucky, I have help, but many do not.

17% of Americans working full or part-time jobs are caregivers. When left unsupported, caregiver employees cost U.S. employers $25 billion annually in absenteeism alone as they have to choose between the demands of work and caring for their loved one. And their own health can suffer.

Caregiving has significant impact on the health and well-being of the individuals involved. On average, caregivers have higher rates of chronic conditions, don’t practice their own preventive care, and engage in riskier behavior than their peers.

Caregivers who provide more than 20 hours taking care of their loved ones are more likely to have to work conflicts, either cutting back at work or quitting entirely. Those who take care of someone long-term often report they’ve experienced their own health issues.

Knowing that a caregiver who is employed will likely have a significant drop in productivity and a significant increase in health care costs, I wonder why more companies aren’t calling attention to this issue within their own employee population and offering them support.

When I speak with employers, many can’t quantify the number of their employees impacted by caregiving and they are shocked to discover the potential productivity and healthcare cost impacts.

It’s time to raise employer awareness about the negative effects of caregiving and help employers make the issue of helping caregivers a top priority.  And, the next time you see a caregiver, ask them how they’re doing and what you can do to help. That simple question may make all the difference. 

Speak loudly, step boldly!

Reference: The Cost of Caregiving to the U.S. Economy and What Business Leaders Can Do About It; Dan Witters, Dec. 1, 2011, Gallup Management Journal. Gallup research sponsored by Pfizer/ReACT (Respect A Caregiver’s Time), 2011

 Image courtesy of Rex PeOctober 3rd, 2013 8:04am seniors caregiver stress caregivers Beth Bierbower