Employers should support caregivers!

Article from the Coloradoan –

A discussion piece recently published in The New York Times entitled, “Easing the stress of daily caregiving,” led me to wonder: What are employers in Larimer County doing to support their employees who are family caregivers?

In the Times piece, author Eilene Zimmerman addresses a reader’s concern about the stress she feels while juggling the tasks of working full time with caring for an aging loved one. According to Denise M. Brown, founder of Caregiving.com, “Caregivers often feel they have one choice: quit their jobs and become full-time caregivers or keep working but do an inadequate job of meeting the needs of their ailing family member.”

Clearly, if employees feel distracted while at work, or worse yet, miss work to care for a loved one, the workplace can suffer. An estimated 25.5 million Americans are balancing work, caregiving and their own family life according to AARP. In Larimer County, it is estimated that by 2015, the number of adults older than age 60 will expand to 63,240, or 19 percent of the total county population. At the same time, in 2015, the number of people older than 75 will be 18,349. These statistics are taken from the Larimer County Office on Aging’s “Four-Year Planning & Service Area Aging Plan,” reported in July, 2011.

Of the 18,349 seniors aged 75 and older who will be living in Larimer County in 2015, how many of them will have family members providing some kind of caregiving assistance? How many of these caregivers are also part of the workforce? How many will use their own sick days to escort a parent to a doctor appointment or leave work early in order to meet with a financial planner, realtor or an attorney on their parents’ behalf?

If we assume that a significant percentage of these family caregivers are working and struggling – and that there is a residual effect on the workplace – it is reasonable to suggest that employers would benefit by supporting their employees during these times. Possibilities to consider: flexible work schedules, telecommuting, job sharing. If employers are willing to think outside the box and open a dialog with their employees about creating a win-win work environment that supports work-life balance, employees will likely be less stressed, more focused while at work, less fearful of losing their jobs, and employers will benefit by having a more consistent, productive staff.

One simple way employers can support employees is to know the many resources available to family caregivers in our community. We are extremely fortunate to live in a county that conscientiously supports seniors and their families through diverse services, such as Meals on Wheels, Ensight (low vision support), Larimer County Office on Aging, transportation services, United Way 211, Elderhaus, Senior Centers and numerous support programs through area hospitals. Elder Care Network of Larimer County (www.eldercarenet.org) also supports caregivers through education, support groups and referrals. Additionally, Certified Geriatric Care Managers can provide one-on-one assistance to families as they navigate the maze of resources.

More and more businesses have become supportive of employees’ need for flexibility as it relates to parenting – workers taking time off to care for sick children. It seems the next logical step to offer similar support to employees who are caring for aging loved ones. It’s time for the business community to partner with senior industry professionals to find ways to help the elderly and their families during the aging process.

Kirsten Hartman, Certified Geriatric Care Manager, is the owner of Seniors in Transition, LLC. www.seniorsintrans.com.

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